NHS CEO asks boards to set diversity targets | Joan Saddler

Joan Saddler

The best news from last month’s Confed19 conference was that NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens used his key note speech to announce new impetus to the Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES).

This included asking boards to set targets for implementing improvements for which they will be held accountable.

It followed the publication of our report Chairs and non-executives in the NHS: The need for diverse leadership.

It found that the chairs and non-executive directors on boards that run NHS organisations in England have become less diverse over the last 15 years.

Mr Stevens’ intervention was welcome because we acknowledge that efforts are being made by NHS England/NHS Improvement to address this deficit, but a strengthened appointments process is required to drive more progress when it comes to diverse chair and non-executive appointments.

During Confed19 we hosted a private session with Professor David Williams, Professor of Public Health at Harvard University led by Danielle Oum, co-chair of the BME Leadership Network (BLN) and chair of Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust. Professor Williams shared some important insights into how racism and discrimination can differentially but always negatively impact across BME communities.

Professor Williams also described the ‘empathy gap’ where individuals can display more empathetic neural response to the pain of those who look most like us than those who look most different. He emphasised the importance of developing effective narratives and collective experience of constructive cross community engagement to breach the ‘empathy gap’ when seeking to engage people in combating racism and discrimination of all kinds.

Wayne Farah, BLN co-facilitator, explained that the network’s mission embraced articulating constructive narratives, and profiling examples of effective leadership in combating racism in line with Prof Williams’s insights because history demonstrates that progress is secured by combating racism not by psychologising it.

Wayne expanded on this theme at the BLN break out session on Thursday when he discussed the theme of community leadership and the importance of effective networking. He illustrated this by explaining how many of the networks created in the aftermath of the death of Blair Peach in 1979 and the uprisings of the early 1980s in response to police racism would play an important role in supporting the family and ultimately securing the publication of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry report in 1999. The report for the first time acknowledged institutional racism and its impact on our communities, demonstrating that who we are is defined by what we do in relation to inequality and injustice, not what we say.  

On the second day Ifti Majid, BLN co-chair and chief executive of Derbyshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, hosted a lunch that was addressed by Stephen Dorrell, former health secretary and outgoing Chair of the NHS Confederation.

We also had short presentation from Richard Stubbs, CEO Yorkshire & Humber Academic Health Science Network, about his personal journey as a BME leader and developing best practice in integrating equality, diversity and inclusion within innovation frameworks.

If you missed it, Richard will speak at the next meeting of the BME Leadership Network in October. Sign up to be a member or supporter of the network using this jotform

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