University Hospitals of Morecambe NHS Foundation Trust (UHMBT) was just meeting legal requirements in relation to its equality practice and needed to improve the experiences of staff with disabilities.
To address this, the trust set up a disability staff network to listen to the voices of disabled staff, which led to improved staff experiences and NHS Staff Survey results.
Key benefits and outcomes
- Created a sense of belonging for colleagues with a disability.
- Skills development of managers and colleagues.
- Introduced a disability leave policy and colleague health passport.
- Improved access to hospital sites for colleagues and service users.
- Improved NHS Staff Survey indicators.
What the organisation faced
In 2015, an external review commissioned by the board found that UHMBT was just meeting its legal minimum requirements in relation to equality practice. Feedback from staff from different protected groups, including those with a disability, confirmed that a trust-wide culture shift was required to improve experiences of both staff and patients.
With no mechanism in place for diverse staff voices to be heard, a new leadership team for inclusion began reaching out and listening to the lived experiences of colleagues, service users and local community groups. They found that colleagues with a disability were very critical of the trust through all aspects of the employee lifecycle.
What the organisation did
UHMBT formed a disability network of staff and volunteers, which brought together a wide range of experience and understanding from across the organisation with different disabilities and intersectionality representation.
Supported by their executive sponsor and the corporate inclusion team, the disability staff network implements evidence-based best practice to create a compassionate, inclusive and supportive working environment and policy framework for colleagues with a disability, and raise awareness and develop the skills of colleagues and service users who are disabled.
Many colleagues who had difficult experiences to share were incredibly passionate about working with the trust’s leadership team, in order for the organisation to learn and make changes to become more inclusive. Following wide consultation with colleagues, service users and the local community, the disability staff network supported the development of a five-year Towards Inclusion strategy, with partnerships at its heart.
Active role of the board
Beyond involvement in the development and approval of the strategy, the trust board has an active role in the inclusion agenda and approves annual reports and action plans and receives regular progress updates. This includes executive sponsorship of each inclusion network. The disability staff network is currently sponsored by the director of people and organisation development.
Clear plan informed by data and best practice
Following the approach of the NHS Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES), UHMBT developed and implemented its own Workforce Disability Equality Standard (WDES) in 2017, which was overseen by the board. This has now been replaced with the national WDES, which the director of people and organisational development and chair of the disability staff network were involved in developing.
Joint areas of work are agreed with the disability staff network each year after a review of the current data, lived experience feedback and best practice. Members of the disability staff network are part of the trust’s inclusion steering group, network for inclusive healthcare, and behaviours at work joint working party.
Learning gained from being part of the NHS Employers Diversity and Inclusion Partners Programme has really helped UHMBT to learn from other organisations across the NHS and wider public and private sector, through formal learning and networking events, advice and support from the central team, and informal networks.
As well as developing the trust’s inclusive behaviours programme, awareness raising campaigns and disability specific resources for colleagues, the network also hosted one of UHMBT’s annual inclusion conferences. Network members were involved in the conception, planning and delivery of the conference.
Results and benefits
The disability staff network has provided disabled staff with the opportunity to be involved in projects and campaigns, such as reviewing the WDES metrics, providing qualitative feedback and sharing lived experiences to help the organisation understand what the data really means in reality for colleagues. This has enabled them to flourish, grow in confidence and have opportunities for personal development that are not open to them in their main roles.
The network has proactively and consistently made a real difference, delivering:
- the introduction of a disability leave policy
- the introduction of a colleague health passport
- the WDES annual report and action plan with dedicated meetings to give all members an opportunity to discuss, share their thoughts and agree priorities
- improvements to estate facilities including two changing places facilities, new handrails, signage and ramp access
- a guide to help managers better understand reasonable adjustments and their role
- a video that brings to life the commitment, achievements and aspirations of the network, giving others the confidence to speak up and share their stories
- awareness raising campaigns.
Progress is tracked each year using the WDES and national NHS Staff Survey disability metrics. Improvements in both the national and the trust’s own WDES include year-on-year improvements in staff reporting the trust has made adequate adjustments to enable them to do their work, and disabled colleagues experienced less bullying, harassment or abuse from managers.
There were areas across the trust where disability and long-term health conditions were seen as something to be worked around or avoided, rather than working together proactively to enable colleagues to flourish. A combination of network visibility, skills development, awareness raising and bespoke resources to support managers was, and still is, fundamental to overcoming this.
The reluctance of colleagues and service users to talk about their experiences and concerns was initially a barrier in some areas, but by proactively engaging with teams and individuals, building trust, and demonstrating that action is taken in response to feedback, has really helped.
- Develop networks internally and externally - partnership working is key.
- Allow flexibility for staff inclusion networks to evolve in their own way, to be staff led (fully supported by inclusion and leadership teams).
- Executive sponsorship of staff inclusion networks is important and really helps.
- Be clear about what you want to achieve and share those aspirations widely.
- Proactively reach out and hear lived experiences. Involve staff who have poor experiences in identifying and implementing improvements.