Race, health and the Workforce Race Equality Standard
As Black History Month 2019 draws to a close, a time when we celebrate the outstanding contributions people of African and Caribbean descent have made to our country and healthcare, I am left questioning how we harness this momentum to drive NHS England’s Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES) throughout healthcare. The connection between race and health has been well researched and the facts remain stark. In general, non-dominant racial groups have worse health outcomes than the dominant racial group. Only this year it was reported that black women in Britain are five times more likely to die as a result of complications in pregnancy than white women.1
The business case for race equality in the NHS is well made from a moral, legal, quality and financial perspective. Healthcare cannot afford the cost to staff and patient care that comes from unfairness in the appointment, treatment and development of a significant section of the workforce. Research shows that we do best when the leadership of healthcare organisations broadly reflects the communities served and, what’s good for patients and communities coincides with inclusive behaviours for staff.2
In 2015 WRES was introduced, hardwiring the requirement to collect, analyse and submit data regarding the experience of BME and White staff for all healthcare providers of NHS services. One of the biggest barriers for organisations is often accepting that there are issues in the first place. Hearing powerful stories of discrimination experienced by BME staff ranging from open hostility to more subtle is deeply uncomfortable. The impact of discrimination on an individual’s health and well-being are well known. Even more uncomfortable is hearing the responses given when concerns are raised, such as denying or trivialising incidents with a racial impact or labelling them as misunderstandings.
Working on WRES requires an understanding of the deep rooted cultures of race inequality both globally and locally, and a commitment to hear the voices of those who are not always heard. My greatest learning has been that it’s really easy to dwell on the risk of doing something and end up doing nothing. But as unknown and fearful as it is, something is better than nothing- if the intention is good, then good enough is often enough to take the next step.
My belief is that black history month is best celebrated by learning from history and remembering that race equality, (supported by WRES), is everyone’s responsibility for the benefit of all workforce and patients.