The NHS Confederation’s BME Leadership Network, in partnership with Leadership Academy, hosted The People Plan and Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: A preview on 30 January 2020.
Chaired by Ifti Majid, chief executive of Derbyshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, speakers included Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation; Prerana Issar, chief people officer at NHS England and NHS Improvement; Tracie Jolliff, director for inclusion at NHS leadership Academy; and Barry Mussenden OBE, deputy director of corporate communications at the Department of Health and Social Care
Below is a roundup of the event's key talking points.
From rhetoric to action
“This is an exciting time to work in the NHS,” Ifti Majiid concluded. While there are challenges well covered in the media, the current focus on staff, leadership and culture change is something to be excited about, he argued as it is the biggest ever commitment to inclusion and diversity. It is what he considers to be a change from rhetoric to action.
Ifti reminded colleagues that the reason equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) is important is not about furthering the careers of black and minority ethnic (BME) colleagues. Rather, it is because there is absolute evidence that those organisations which are more reflective of their communities at leadership and frontline care levels deliver outcomes for people who use their services.
Ifti went on to talk about our responsibilities as BME leaders to foster learning conversations about diversity and inclusion. This would take courage to “stick our heads above the parapet,” but added that “we are not responsible for others’ feelings, thinking or bias.” He raised BME leaders’ in-built fight or flight mode (limbic system), discussing how easy it is to trigger people’s threat mode when responding in fight responses – things like denial of data accuracy, accusations of racism or flight mode. “When colleagues enter threat mode, their learning stops.”
He suggested some more collaborative compassion-focused approaches to starting these important conversations, arguing that we need to tap into people’s value base and their motivations for working in the NHS. This should be enhanced by real stories as, in his experience, this allows learning conversations to go on for much longer. He closed by thanking colleagues in the room for wanting to be part of our journey.
The world’s largest workforce strategy
Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, talked about valuing the workforce to enable change and asked delegates to remember the important role of social care, before introducing Prerana Issar, chief people officer. Prerana presented an update on the NHS People Plan and some specific elements of it, including the core offer, the leadership compact, and recruitment and retention.
She introduced the People Plan as the world’s largest workforce strategy and said that while the date for publication is yet to be confirmed, her team is working closely with the new government so that they are ready to implement its commitments and agree a full People Plan and date for publication. She noted that early government announcements (such as nursing student funding support; and improving log-in times) demonstrate commitment to the workforce agenda.
Prerana explained that the UK will need more people working in health and social care – more people working across different professions and roles, both in the NHS and in social care, but that more of the same will not be enough. She shared that our patients and staff tell us loud and clear that they need us to work differently if we are to create the NHS we all want to see.
She added that the way we work needs to be more collaborative, agile and flexible, more multidisciplinary and. We need to face current workforce shortages together, she said, “honestly and urgently”. If we are to help keep the nurses we have, and encourage new people to come into the profession, NHS organisations need to properly invest in listening to their staff, and act on what they tell us.
The plan will set out systematic action to ensure healthy, inclusive and compassionate cultures for all staff working in the NHS, improving staff experience and enhancing retention.
The NHS’ chief people officer also talked about its ‘core people offer’ for everyone working in the NHS and practical action to support local employers and local health systems in meeting the core offer, including:
- a positive, inclusive and compassionate working culture
- a voice, influence and value
- an effective, healthy and safe working environment
- an ability to learn, develop and achieve
- a flexible and predictable working pattern
- recognition and reward for your contribution.
The plan will set out how the NHS will put people issues at the heart of its approach to oversight and support for local health systems, as well as how it will support the HR/OD profession in supporting these changes.
The message to the NHS was this: we are inclusive and promote equality and diversity; we never discriminate. This will be supported by a number of indicators. A preview of the detail on inclusion, equality and diversity was shared with the explanation that it intended to help leaders support culture in their organisation, and for all people to know what the NHS stands for.
Through engagement, the team has heard how it feels to work in the NHS on the frontline and the challenges many face. The ‘core people offer’ and leadership compact seek to create positive and inclusive work environments free from abuse, violence and discrimination.
Last month, the team took the challenge of how to bring the ‘core people offer’ and leadership compact or promise to life, through the lens of challenging discrimination. The example of a recently reported incident, doctor Radhakrishna Shanbhag was shared, alongside the Secretary of State’s letter and information about the Assembly, which had consensus that if we don’t reinforce the values and challenge racist or sexist behaviours, the core offer is just words on a page that mean nothing.
Prerana concluded her presentation posing three questions, which delegates were asked to discuss further in groups at their tables.
Special guest Pola then provided a rapturous performance of classical dance tinged with Bollywood style.
From initiatives to core business
We also heard from Tracie Jolliff, director of inclusion at the NHS Leadership Academy, who talked about why the BME Leadership Network is so important, adding the importance of its work with other programmes like WRES and the Health and Care Women Leaders Network, to create change.
Powerful and authentic experiences were shared by Mark Lam, chair of Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Mental Health Trust and Evelyn Asante-Mensah, chair Pennine Care Trust about leadership and provided lessons that we can all learn from, including the need to move beyond EDI initiatives to it being core business.
A World Café session then took place. In order to ensure that people are able to deliver their best for people using services, it asked delegates share their practical experiences and tips about the concepts, ideas or assumptions that we are trying to overturn when we are thinking about potential added value from BME leadership across the system; and secondly, the tools used to overturn these.
Fear of speaking up, lack of acceptance of BME leadership, the NHS being part of the inherent fabric of British history, including the flaws, that difference does not equal deficit, the influence of Brexit in "giving permission of superiority", the need to work twice as hard, and multiple oppression (intersectionality), were voiced by delegates as some of the concepts, ideas and assumptions they were trying to overturn.
As some of the effective tools to bring about the required change, they raised the support of non-BME allies, safe spaces, fairer disciplinary processes, nursing tools and data to hold senior management to account, use of shadow boards, reverse and reciprocal mentoring, BME open evenings for young people, and a focus on impact and change in local communities .
Delegates then listened to Barry Mussenden OBE, deputy director of corporate communications at the Department of Health and Social Care, summarising that while BME leaders have been adapting to change, there has been very little change. He advised that we can create sustainable change by ‘flipping the script’ and that it was important to acknowledge that the deficit was in the system and not in us.
The event ended with a peaceful, deeply moving performance of ‘Still I rise’ by Alicia Saddler.