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Workforce Disability Equality Standard

NHS England WDES 

What is the Workforce Disability Equality Standard?

The Workforce Disability Equality Standard, often abbreviated to WDES, is a set of ten specific metrics that will enable NHS organisations to compare the experiences of Disabled and non-disabled staff and identify areas for improvement. 

It launched in all NHS England Trusts in 2019 and the first national report was published in March 2020. In addition, each Trust is required to publish their action plan in response to their local year 1 data on their website. 

On this page you can find more information on the WDES including information on how to get involved, the role of staff side and useful further information and resources.

What does the year one data tell us?

NHS staff who identify as having a disability report clear disparities in their experiences and outcomes in comparison to their colleagues. They are:

  • Less likely to be appointed from shortlisting than their colleagues who do not report having a disability.
  • More likely to go through formal capability processes on the basis of performance.
  • More likely to experience harassment, bullying and abuse.
  • More likely to be pressured to attend work when they are not well enough to perform their duties.

Staff who identify as having a disability also feel that they don't have equal access to promotion and career progression.

Additionally, there were few Trusts with consistent results across the metrics; Trusts could score highly in one metric and then very low in another area. Examining your Trust's data on their website will be helpful if you are looking at which areas to learn from and celebrate, and which areas need attention.

What next?

Employers will need to complete the data collection process for the WDES from 6 July to 31 August 2020. 

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak WDES reporting for 2020 was initially suspended but has now been reinstate.

There is also work to be done in regards to the year one data.

NHS Employers involved trade unions in the development of the metrics and have acknowledged the key role that they will play in improving the data.

At the RCN we will continue to support our members, including activists, to improve inclusion and diversity in their workplaces and obtain the support they need to thrive. We will build on our existing resources that uphold a lived experience approach, and demonstrate the benefits of this approach when working in partnership with Trusts and other stakeholders.

If you would like to share what is working well for you, please contribute to our workplace adjustments database.

If you are an RCN activist and would like to explore how the Peer Support Service can help you make positive changes for a more inclusive workplace please email us

Dr Christine Rivers on the aims of WDES

Key points:

  • WDES results are published on the Trust's websites each year this allows staff service users and the public to see the metrics and the actions it also allows for year-on-year comparison and bench-marking across similar Trusts.
  • The overall aim is to make the NHS an exemplar employer for disabled people and to address the issues they face.
  • Trusts should work in partnership with staff side union representatives, staff networks and disabled staff to respond to the data and create, implement and sustain action plans.
  • “Nothing about us without us” – disabled staff should be at the heart of decisions that affect them.
  • The WDES aims to highlight and prioritise the issues disabled staff face, with a positive impact on patient care.

The ten WDES metrics and how Reps can get involved

Further information and resources about WDES, including the technical data that lists the ten metrics, can be found on the NHS England website.

illustration of head and shoulders of three nursing staff

Member Stories

A growing video resource allows you to hear first hand from members with lived experience of ill health and disability.
Removing barriers WDES page only

Removing Disabling Barriers at Work

Click to read our new guidance, based on the lived experience of our members. 


Disability Passport guide

A Disability Passport details the reasonable adjustments a staff member with health or disability issues needs at work.

Kim Parsons from NHS England on WDES good practice initiatives

Share your experiences of WDES

Have you helped to implement new initiatives as part of your Trust's response to WDES? Tell us about it using our workplace adjustments database.

Or, if you would like to suggest resources and guidance that would help support RCN members you can email us