Are NHS inclusion strategies letting women down?

Published on Thursday, 12 June 2014 11:02
Written by Katy Edgington

A new report suggests that NHS England's strategy for equality, diversity and inclusion in the workplace is falling short when it comes to female employees.

Representatives of the healthcare sector and other relevant bodies discussed some of the issues raised by the report in Govtoday's Who Cares for the Carers webinar on 7 July - you can listen to the debate here.

The results, which are based on data collected between 2008 and 2014, highlight some interesting trends in the perception of NHS England's equality and diversity measures among the organisation's staff. The document, compiled by Hillcroft House, concludes that more support is needed for female employees and that the underlying reasons for females in particular feeling undervalued require further investigation.

Under the Equality Act 2010, protected characteristics when it comes to discrimination include ethnicity, sexual orientation, and sex or gender. NHS England's first Equality Delivery System (EDS), aimed at reviewing and improving the organisation's performance for employees and patients with these and other protected characteristics, was unveiled in 2011. A refreshed, streamlined version (EDS2) was then introduced in 2013 following an independent evaluation. While significant improvements in feelings of inclusion among black and minority ethnic (BME) and GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender) employees between 2008 and 2014 are observed in the report, a relatively small proportion of female employees said that they felt valued and included by their employer in the latest survey.

NHS England has stated its commitment 'to work internally, and in partnership with colleagues within the Department of Health and the wider NHS, to ensure that advancing equality and diversity is central to how it conducts its business as an organisation', which is borne out by the fact that over 90% of respondents in the 2014 survey said that their employer had a policy to cover equality and diversity and promoted this culture in their organisation.

However, the evidence gathered by the investigation suggests that some groups still feel undervalued in comparison to others. In 2008, when the survey was first carried out, 20% of all women, 21% of all black and minority ethnic (BME), and 25% of GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender) employees said that they felt valued and included by their employer. While the latter two categories made marked improvements – to 70% and 78%, respectively – by 2014, only 43% of women surveyed this year agreed or strongly agreed that they felt valued and included by their employer.

As far as male employees are concerned – fluctuations in the intervening years notwithstanding – the figure who agreed or strongly agreed to feeling valued and included was a steady 55% in the years 2008 and 2014, suggesting that not enough action has been taken to ensure that male staff benefit from policies to ensure inclusion.

There is also a regional aspect to the issue. Just 23% of all women surveyed in the North West felt valued and included, compared to 59% of female NHS employees in London. The gap between what male and female employees reported was also narrower in the capital, with 62% of men there feeling valued and included. The figure for men in the North West this year was just 40%.

The report concludes that a lack of empowerment among frontline NHS England staff can only have a detrimental effect on efforts to implement the recommendations that emerged from the Francis Inquiry. According to the authors, failure to address the perceived lack of inclusion revealed by the research could jeopardise improvements to patient care.

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