Why NHS BME Network

The NHS in accordance with the public sector Equality Duty of the Equality Act 2010 is required to have due regard to (i) the elimination of discrimination, (ii) the promotion of equality of opportunity and (iii) the fostering of good relations between people from different ethnic groups. However, despite its legal obligation all the available evidence shows that BME equity in the NHS is far from a reality.

In recognition of this fact the then NHS Chief Executive Sir Nigel Crisp announced in 2004 that the NHS and the Department of Health (DH) would give greater prominence to race equality and as such strive to reduce health inequalities; make race an important dimension of health strategy and target recruitment and development opportunities at Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) people in recognition that their skills are often underused. However, ten years after this declaration the now Lord Nigel Crisp informed the Nursing Standard that the issues of race equality in the NHS seemed to be worse than before and as a result the NHS “is not getting the best out of BME staff”.

Similarly an independent inquiry into mental health following the death of David Bennett, who had experienced overt and covert racism of various forms throughout his contact with mental health services, resulted in the publication of the Delivering Race Equality (DRE) in Mental Health Care by the DH in 2005 with recommendations about the delivery of mental healthcare to BME communities in particular.

However, despite this initiative the inequality of black people in the mental health system continues to be an unresolved tragedy. For example black people are consistently over-represented in the most serious end of the mental health system and consistently under-represented in the mild and moderate treatment areas. This reality is compounded by the fact that numerous black male mental health service users have died in police custody and no one has been held accountable.

In 2008 Dr Vivienne Lyfar-Cissé as the author of the South East Coast (SEC) BME Network Race Equality Review, the first report of its kind, highlighted on behalf of the South East Coast BME Network in 2008 the widespread disadvantages faced by BME staff in recruitment, bullying, grievance and disciplinary rates by analysing data obtained from the then twenty-seven NHS organisations in the region. All the subsequent race review reports since that time have shown that very little, if anything, has changed for BME staff employed by the NHS

Achieving BME equity in the NHS will require changing the way health services are commissioned, delivered and managed in addition to addressing the institutional and individual racism that exists by active intervention.

It will also require BME people as the beneficiaries of the race equality duty to “stand up” and be counted to ensure their needs and aspirations become the organising principles for future health and social care. The NHS BME Network will champion the BME and as such be an “Independent and effective voice for BME staff, BME Patients and BME Service users to ensure the NHS delivers on its statutory duties regarding race equality”