‘BME Equity and the NHS: Time for Action’

Earlier this month, the NHS BME Network organised a conference entitled ‘BME Equity and the NHS: Time for Action’ held at the Hilton Hotel in London. The national conference created a great opportunity to discuss what needs to be done to promote greater equity for BME staff and patients within the NHS. The event covered various topics including bullying, the lack of career progression, quality of care, the issue of whistle blowing and the failure to access training programmes.

The conference started with the bold question of, “Is BME equity a reality in the NHS today?”, of which 76% of people said no, demonstrating that resolving the discrimination and inequalities experienced by BME staff and patients is still a huge challenge.

Victoria Macdonald, the Chair of the debate and the Health and Social Care Correspondent for Channel 4 News stated:

There is an overwhelming feeling that I have as I have talked to people around the room that this issue of course is taking too long, people are saying that there is a lot of talk and not enough action and also why are we still here in 2014 having these discussions. Today is the time for action and you have to be the driver – a force for change.”

Julie Bailey, founder of Cure the NHS and a central figure in the Stafford Hospital scandal, relayed a very powerful story:

I had no idea 7 years ago that my local hospital was not safe and I had no idea that older people feared going in to some NHS hospitals, and then I had no idea that some people feared going home alone when they went out of the NHS hospital. I wish I could stand here and tell you that after 7 years of campaigning for a safer NHS that it is safe – it isn’t, but I think we have moved a long way forward. But we have still got a hell of a long way to go.”

Julie Bailey’s mother, Bella Bailey, died on 8 November 2007, due to inappropriate care and staff who were not trained properly.

Roger Kline, a research fellow from Middlesex University Business School talked about the link between the treatment of BME staff at the NHS and the patient experience. He stated:

Simon Stevens, who is the new Chief Executive of the NHS, said that of his last three bosses, none of them were from the NHS. And it has to change. I think that building a new requirement to close that gap is the way forward, we are all patients, nothing less.”

A race equality review of NHS organisations in the then South East Coast Region in 2008 by Dr Vivienne Lyfar-Cissé, Chair of the NHS BME Network, showed that BME staff were disproportionately represented on all HR procedures and under-represented at senior management levels. More recent research by Kline revealed that despite leadership programmes targeted for BME staff, there are now fewer leaders from a BME background than in 2006. Furthermore, the stark absence of any BME representation at the Executive Director level of any of the regulatory bodies, means that there are real concerns, if effective changes will be implemented to bring about a more equitable representation of BME staff at senior levels within the NHS.

Professor Sir Mike Richards, Chief Inspector of Hospitals at the Care Quality Commission, said that he was there to listen and stressed that more training on equality and talking to specific equality groups is necessary, however the audience was not entirely impressed by this response.

The combination of workshops and panels resulted in an overall positive outcome as delegates reaffirmed their commitment to look for good practice, improve strategies, challenge existing practices and as patients and staff members, demand their rights. Just the very title of the conference: ‘Time for Action’, inspired and motivated everyone as speakers, panellists, volunteers and delegates demonstrated a true passion which filled the room.

However, it is important to note that it is not enough to just hope that this all will be put into practice, because indeed it is not. It is crucial to demand a new change, develop better strategies and plans, get a place at a table and be determined that your voice will be heard, until this issue is gone completely.

As Dr Vivienne Lyfar-Cisse, the Chair of the NHS BME Network said:

Sometimes the door just shuts in your face, but we are ready to keep on knocking until it opens.”