Addressing the race equality gap for NHS staff

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2016 Health Care Service Group Conference
18 December 2015

The NHS, which generations of Black workers helped to build, still continues to depend on their hard work. It’s the largest employer of Black people in England. Over 19% of nurses and 11% of non-medical staff in the NHS are non-white. However, too many of our members are still experiencing racist discrimination in the workplace from across the spectrum of employment from recruitment to promotion.

In the 2013 NHS Staff Survey, 39% of Black staff compared to 63% of white staff felt that their organisation acted fairly with regards to career progression and promotion. In line with this ‘The snowy white peaks of the NHS’ report found that the Black population are largely excluded from senior positions both as NHS managers and as NHS Trust Board members in London despite 45% and 41% representation in the local population and the NHS workforce respectively.

The same report reviewed recruitment data across 30 NHS Trusts in England. The data indicated that the likelihood of white applicants being appointed is more than three times greater than that of Black applicants. Further, the report found no evidence that NHS Boards and senior management have become more diverse in recent years.

In looking at treatment at work the picture is not much better. Black staff are twice more likely to experience discrimination and to be disciplined at work in comparison with white staff (Archibond and Darr (2010)). The survey findings also showed that 29% of Black staff have experienced harassment and bullying from members of the public with some Black staff groups four times more likely than white staff to experience this.

It has been suggested that the experience of Black NHS staff is a good barometer of the climate of respect and care for all within the NHS. Statistics show that patient satisfaction decreases when levels of Black staff reporting racism increases.

Based on all this evidence, conference welcomes the work of the Equality and Diversity Council (EDC) and UNISON’s existing involvement which has put a special focus on race equality in the workforce. The NHS workforce Race Equality Standard (RES) has been prioritised as the best means of helping the NHS in England improve Black representation at senior management and board level, improving recruitment practices and to provide better working environments for the Black workforce.

While Equality legislation is a powerful tool for trade unions in tackling inequality, it will not eliminate the damaging systematic labour market discrimination that Black workers experience. For the principles of equality to become a reality we must organise and recruit around them too.

Conference therefore calls on the Health Service Group Executive to seek to further ensure that the efforts behind the Race equality standard are delivered by:

1)Promoting the principles and progress of the standard so that branches are aware of this work and supported to engage with employers

2)Working with the National Black members committee to inform, consult and engage Black members in the development and implementation of the standard and to exploit opportunities to recruit and organise Black members around the issues

3)Using the good practice and lessons learnt, to initiate discussion with the devolved nations to compare approaches to race equality issues for the NHS workforce, including examination of how countries are monitoring and – if required – closing the gap between Black and white staff regarding recruitment and selection, disciplinary action and access to non-mandatory training.