Press release

Invest in equality, diversity and inclusion, urge health leaders

NHS leaders responded to an NHS Confederation survey asking for their views on the current state of equality and diversity across the health service.

13 March 2024

Health leaders believe investing in equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) is key to improving the NHS.  

Of the 560 NHS leaders who responded to an NHS Confederation survey asking for their views on the current state of equality and diversity across the health service, all said that investment in EDI was integral to improving care.  

The results highlight the value of an NHS workforce and leadership that is representative of local communities. 

The survey found that 96% of leaders say that the NHS still has issues of discrimination to overcome in access, experience and outcomes for patients. 

The NHS is the most diverse employer in the country, both in terms of the variety of professions on offer and the make-up of the 1.5 million people in these roles. For example, around 1 in 5 NHS staff members have a non-British nationality. Additionally, the NHS has legal obligations to meet under the Equality Act 2010 and the Health and Care Act 2022. 

This is why the NHS employs small teams of experts who are formally responsible for setting the tone, culture, policies, frameworks, training and legal compliance that promote fair treatment and the full participation of everyone who interacts with its services. The evidence suggests these roles make up around 0.5% of the NHS’s entire workforce. 

However, with the annual cost of bullying, harassment and discrimination in the NHS estimated to be £2.28 billion in 2019 – and with staff from minoritised backgrounds being most affected – the value these roles can play in identifying and driving forward improvements are significant.  Such negative experiences can lead to a mistrust of services, with patients from minoritised backgrounds likely to present later, with more severe conditions, or not at all.   

Across the board the NHS Confederation survey shows that developing diverse leadership and demonstrating a commitment to ongoing community engagement are essential to ensuring NHS organisations understand and act on the specific needs of those experiencing racism or any form of discrimination. This is also reflected in the NHS’s EDI improvement plan, published last year. 

Commenting on the findings Joan Saddler, director of partnerships and equality at the NHS Confederation said: 

“The claims that inclusive roles are a waste of both time and money are often levelled at the NHS and even that they are ineffective and do not lead to improved care for patients.  

“However, the numbers don’t lie and show that investing in EDI is crucial if we want to see our health service positively progress.  

“Our survey results show that there are still major issues surrounding discrimination in the service. NHS leaders want their staff to be able to do their best work, however this is simply not possible if so many of them are experiencing stress and mental ill-health due to discrimination, harassment and a lack of support. 

“Building on the progress made already by the NHS it is crucial that we ramp up investment in diverse leadership roles and strive to create an inclusive environment where staff and patients alike feel like they are seen and heard no matter who they are.” 

Health leaders and their teams for a long time have understood that tackling the issues that cause disparities in health and staff experience improves productivity, efficiency and outcomes. This helps systems achieve financial and long-term targets as well as improving performance, which benefits the patients they care for. 

About us

We are the membership organisation that brings together, supports and speaks for the whole healthcare system in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The members we represent employ 1.5 million staff, care for more than 1 million patients a day and control £150 billion of public expenditure. We promote collaboration and partnership working as the key to improving population health, delivering high-quality care and reducing health inequalities.