Strengthening diversity through our new BME network | Niall Dickson

Niall Dickson

Not only will diversity in top teams lead to true representation of our communities and workforce, but it will also increase productivity, says Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation.

We are not doing well enough. In fact, in some ways we are doing less well now than a decade ago. For a whole variety of reasons, we must do better. The key to unlocking progress sits at the top of every NHS organisation in the country.

In short, we need a more diverse leadership. Our top teams should be representative of the communities they serve and the staff for whom they are responsible. In part, this is about fairness and making the most of the talent in our midst, but as successive studies have shown, it is also about creating the most effective organisations and system, committed to improving the quality of patient care. 

Harvard Business School, among many institutions, has described how diversity in leadership promotes creativity. The 2018 McKinsey report – Delivering through diversity – found that gender and ethnic diversity are linked to improved productivity. The business case is inarguable.

For a service that prides itself on its values and its founding principles of inclusivity and universality, we clearly have some way to go. We have heard the warm words - the challenge is achieving measurable change. That change has to come from the top. 

Yet since the early 2000s, we have seen a major drop in the number of chairs and non-executive directors from BME backgrounds. We have seen fewer women appointed to these roles. Progress in appointing more disabled people to chair and non-executive roles has also stalled.

This is an issue that the NHS needs to tackle, and we will be focusing on this in the first report from our new BME Leadership Network, launched by Dame Donna Kinnair, Dame Elizabeth Anionwu and Simon Stevens this week. The report will consider why we have seen this decline, and importantly, what needs to be done to reverse it.

We hope the new Network will support our members and other NHS organisations to recognise and embrace this challenge of meeting the needs of all local communities - a critical requirement of the NHS Constitution. 

The network should be a means to strengthen the voice of BME leaders, and importantly, to foster, support and encourage aspiring BME leaders. In this way, we can help increase and sustain the number of BME leaders working in the NHS. 

This is just one modest initiative and, to be frank, we have seen forums and networks before. But we are all determined to make a difference, and with your help, we can. Danielle Oum, chair of Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust, and Ifti Majid, chief executive of Derbyshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, will lead the network as co-chairs. They will give voice to this issue and help to support organisations to implement the Workforce Race Equality Standard programme.  

It would not be an exaggeration to say that if we do not tackle the diversity challenge at every level, we will not engage our staff, we will not tap into the talent that surrounds us, and ultimately, we will not succeed in delivering the NHS Long Term Plan. 

It would be great if you could alert your BME leaders and aspiring BME leaders to the Network. If you or they want more detail or to become involved, please email Joan Saddler, the director at the Confederation who is leading this work, via

Niall Dickson is chief executive of the NHS Confederation. Follow him on Twitter @NHSC_Niall and the Confederation @nhsconfed

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