Leaders must stand shoulder-to-shoulder to tackle race inequality

Equality and Diversity panel

An NHS chief executive has called on leaders to stand shoulder-to-shoulder following a “horrendous” backlash against a chief executive’s pledge to take a stand on race equality in the NHS.

Speaking at Confed18, Samantha Allen, chief executive of Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, condemned the “abhorrent” criticism of Sarah-Jane Marsh’s commitment to end the ‘white wall’ of recruitment panels. In a social media post in April 2018, Ms Marsh, chief executive of Birmingham Children and Women’s NHS Foundation Trust, said she would not sit on an interview panel that did not include a black and minority ethnic (BME) member of staff.

Since sharing the decision on social media, Ms Marsh, also speaking at Confed18, said she faced a “significant” and “horrendous” backlash, which has served only to strengthen her resolve.

The decision, she said, followed a review of the trust’s workforce race equality standard (WRES) data which showed that white people are 1.8 times more likely to be appointed at interview than people from a BME background.

‘Must-watch session for NHS leaders’

Speaking on a panel session on equality, diversity and inclusion at Confed18, Ms Marsh said the patient group the trust serves is made up, by almost 50 per cent, of people from BME backgrounds.

And although the organisation has staff from diverse groups, not many are in senior leadership positions.

Fellow panellist Marie Gabriel, chair of East London NHS Foundation Trust, also voiced her backing for Ms Marsh’s position, saying panels need to be more reflective of the communities they serve.

The session, a must-watch for all NHS leaders, was chaired by NHS Improvement’s Baroness Dido Harding, and featured the perspectives of The King’s Fund’s Mark Doughty and GP Dr Amir Hannan.

The candid discussion touched on several aspects of diversity and inclusion, including what NHS boards should be doing on the gender pay gap; the role and responsibility of NHS leaders to ensure fairness and equity; the inclusion of marginalised and diverse voices; career progression; and intersectionality.

A comment from the floor also called out the NHS leaders at conference who failed to attend the session.

The workforce race equality standard (WRES), introduced in 2015, was repeatedly cited as a helpful way for NHS boards to see and assess their performance on race equality.

The NHS Confederation and NHS England are holding a joint session on the WRES, featuring Simon Stevens, on Thursday morning at 7.15am.

Watch all the main stage sessions from Confed18.

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