Disable Inequality: How to challenge disability discrimination

This is UNISON’s year of the disabled worker and the union is launching a new campaign to help members challenge disability discrimination in the NHS

Disable inequality

Disable Inequality is a new UNISON campaign to help health members identify and tackle disability discrimination in the NHS.

The Workforce Disability Equality Standard (WDES) requires all NHS Trusts in England to report data on the workplace experience of disabled workers. 

The latest WDES report found that only 3.5% of NHS staff identify as disabled on the NHS formal record system, but in the staff survey 19% identified as disabled.

This may be because staff do not feel able to tell the NHS they are disabled due to stigma and discrimination. The WDES, which came into force in 2019, is a set of 10 metrics that compare the experience of disabled staff in the NHS to non-disabled staff.

Disabled workers are 1.54 times more likely to enter the formal performance management capability process, according to the latest WDES report. Disabled NHS workers also face higher rates of harassment, bullying and abuse – 26.3% of disabled staff reported harassment, bullying or abuse, compared to 18.5% of non-disabled staff.

As 2022 is UNISON’s Year of Disabled Worker, the union is launching this campaign to specifically help to equip members to identify and challenge disability discrimination in the NHS.

UNISON national officer for disability equality Deirdre Costigan said: “UNISON worked in partnership with the NHS in England to develop the WDES because we believe that it is crucial to understand the experience of disabled workers in our health service compared to non-disabled workers. 

“We fought hard to ensure the 10 measures include looking at whether disabled workers are more likely to be subject to formal capability procedures because our members tell us that this is often what happens to them. 

“This is a real opportunity to help us improve disabled people’s working lives. I hope all NHS branches in England will take time to look at the WDES findings for their trust and will use this as a basis for their bargaining work.” 

Though WDES applies in England only, UNISON believes that the experience of disabled workers in other devolved administrations would be similar.

UNISON NEC member Katrina Murray, who is a member of the national disabled members’ committee said: “I work in a hospital in Scotland so we don’t yet have the WDES. 

“However, we can still ask our local health board to take the pledge and to work on an action plan to address some of the issues that seem to be common across all of the NHS, such as fair recruitment, access to reasonable adjustments and bullying and harassment of disabled staff.”

Pat Heron, a disabled member who sits on UNISON’s NEC and works in the NHS in the Northern region, said: “For too long, disabled workers in the NHS have been undervalued and overlooked. 

“We often get turned down for the reasonable adjustments we need to allow us to do our job properly. The WDES findings show that bullying and harassment is much more common than many would have expected in our health service.

“My branch will be using the information in the WDES to hold our trust to account and to ensure we have a disability leave policy that does not penalise disabled workers who need time off due to their impairment.

“This is even more important with increasing numbers of NHS staff experiencing symptoms of long COVID-19 and struggling to get the workplace changes they need.”

UNISON encourages all disabled members to join the UNISON disabled members self organised group.

What branches can do to support disabled workers: