Time to t̶a̶l̶k̶ take action: making race equality a reality for the NHS in London.

In early June this year, an opportunity came my way that was too wonderful to resist. I was asked by Sir David Sloman, Regional Director for the NHS in London, to work with colleagues to help develop a race equality strategy for the capital.

When the first national Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES) data collection and analysis was done in 2015, it was clear that there were three priority areas that needed to be focused on: nursing, the ambulance trusts and London. These areas had the lowest levels of satisfaction for black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) staff, as well as having the biggest gaps in black and white staff experience. Fast forward five years and there have been some improvements in the WRES data. For instance, all London trusts have at least one non-executive director from a BAME background on their boards. However, the data has not moved quickly enough in the right direction.

This year the world is experiencing a terrible pandemic. It was during the early days of coronavirus when we began to see staff from BAME backgrounds being disproportionately affected by the virus. Data released from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on 7 May revealed that people from these backgrounds were 4.2 times more likely to die of coronavirus than their white counterparts, and that even when socio-demographic characteristics were taken into consideration, people from BAME backgrounds were still 2 times more likely to die. This news sent shock waves through the health service.

Then, on 25 May, we witnessed the harrowing and unlawful death of a black man in America. His name was George Floyd. This event clearly resonated with people in the UK and shone a light on the experiences of black people. As a result, the work of the Black Lives Matter campaign was amplified globally. These two events, along with the Marmot report published in February, which highlighted the increased gap in health inequalities, raised the urgency of the need to do something about race inequality in this country. People began to understand and to see the inequities inherent in our society.

The Workforce Race Equality Strategy has been developed against this backdrop. The evidence-based report will be published in October and the recommendations within it will have demonstrable impact.

I have had the pleasure of talking to and working with staff from all backgrounds, professions and areas of the NHS in London. They have been open about what they feel needs to change in order for there to be fairness and equity in the service and for them to feel safe. The key thing people are asking for is demonstrable and visible leadership on the issue, for senior leaders to acknowledge that there are inequities in the system, and for something to be done about it.

When I talk to people from white backgrounds, they say they recognise there is an issue but are not always sure what to do about it. With this in mind, I have developed the 7 As of Authentic Allyship to help white colleagues take the practical steps needed to make race equality a reality for the NHS in London.

The 7 As of Authentic Allyship

Our ability to transform the experience of staff in London for the better is dependent on us all making an effort to deliver on the recommendations presented in the report. In order to do that, individuals must make commitments to support the work. This means understanding its importance and acknowledging that the culture of the NHS won’t necessarily change overnight but with effort, energy and enthusiasm, the changes that we all desire, need and want in our NHS will be forthcoming.

Yvonne Coghill

Yvonne Coghill is the Director of the Workforce Race Equality Standard Implementation Team in London.

High quality care for all, now and for future generations.