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There are “irrefutable” issues for BME NHS staff, Stevens says

For the first time, six leaders in NHS bodies came together for a panel discussion yesterday, and racial equity in higher levels of the NHS was a key topic in the audience's questions.

Speaking at the annual NHS Confederation conference in Liverpool yesterday, Stevens said: “We have a huge issue on filtration and stratification not just at the levels of individual boards and hospitals and provider organisations but in the national leadership of the NHS itself. That is irrefutable.

“The consequence of that is that we are not doing right by the people who choose to devote their careers to the National Health Service. But as importantly if not more so, we are not connecting with the people our organisations are serving,” he said.

The panel consisted of Bob Alexander, chief executive, NHS Trust Development Authority, David Behan, chief executive, Care Quality Commission, David Bennett, chief executive at Monitor, Professor Ian Cumming, chief executive at Health Education England, Duncan Selbie, chief executive at Public Health England and Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England.

Two health professionals asked questions about black and minority ethnic (BME) equality in the NHS. The first question was: “When will your personal commitment to equality and diversity deliver us a plan that is actually more reflective of the communities you're supposed to serve?”

Shortly afterwards, another health professional in the audience said: “We've got a big issue in the NHS about addressing inequalities in opportunity and reflecting diversity throughout the NHS. What are you going to do to address that issue?”

Anita Anand, chair of the conference, responded: “So that's twice we've asked the same question and it's getting applause.” Looking around the panel she said “It is very white and suity isn't it up here?”

Stevens answered: “Yes, it is. Perhaps counter-intuitively I'm very proud to co-chair the NHS Equality and Development Council. Earlier today at the BME leaders' forum we were together again and we were charting things we need to change as an NHS and a national organisation.

“There are some mechanistic things that we can do. I'm proud that the six organisations have come together to propagate with the BME leader forum, we've released the Workforce Race Equality Standard this year and we've set ourselves the goal over three years of narrowing the gap in the gap of the experience between BME staff and white staff.”

However, in response after the event, Dr Vivienne Lyfar-Cisse, chair of the NHS BME Network, said: ““Thousands of BMEs are suffering at the NHS, we don't hold much hope of the Workforce Race Equality Standard as it stands. If you really want to change, Simon Stevens, you'd have the numbers of BME workers in band five or six of the NHS as a measure.”

She said that BME workers are stuck in the lower bands of the NHS, struggling to get higher than band three and are now disillusioned and so no longer applying to higher level positions.

Even when people from black and minority ethnic groups apply for higher-level jobs the recruitment process is biased, and BME workers are denied opportunities in training and development, so that even if the recruitment process is not biased, they don't have the skills to apply, she said.

The NHS BME annual conference will be on 12 June 2015, for more info click here