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The North West Cultural Ambassador Programme launched

 Ian Fletcher 27 Apr 2018

The North West region as a whole has a richly diverse range of nurses from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds and from data collected, we know that NHS staff from a BAME background suffer disproportionately with respect to workplace disciplinary and grievance processes.

As an RCN Senior Officer, I’m always keen to explore opportunities to engage with and support members from all ethnic backgrounds across my patch, which is Greater Liverpool and Knowsley. 

The Cultural Ambassador Programme (CA) was conceived by the former RCN West Midlands Regional Director, Paul Vaughan, in light of evidence that BAME staff were up to 50 per cent more likely to be the subject of formal investigations, more likely for investigations to proceed to formal hearings, and more likely to be given sanctions as a result. Whilst there’s no way of unequivocally proving why this pattern has emerged, it’s believed that the underlying reason for these differences lies primarily in unconscious bias and discrimination amongst decision makers.

The CA is designed to recruit staff from BAME backgrounds at Band 6 and above, and place them alongside investigating managers and disciplinary and grievance panels involving BAME staff, in order to identify and challenge any potential bias and discrimination. The programme works in partnership between the RCN and NHS Trusts, with the RCN offering training and ongoing support under a reflective model. Trusts commit, at Board level, to release CA candidates for training and to fulfil the role alongside their jobs.

The first thing each RCN region was asked to do was to select a Trust to work with, to conduct a 12 month pilot. In the North West, we looked at a number of possibilities and settled on The Walton Centre for Neurology in partnership with the Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital Foundation Trust.

The Walton Centre was chosen because its Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES) data reflected the national pattern of disproportionality of treatment of BAME staff. Secondly, there was a significant buy-in from the Trust, particularly from the former Director of Nursing, and now Trust Chief Executive, Hayley Citrine. Thirdly, there are a relatively low number of BAME staff at Band 6 or above so it was felt that the programme might be an empowering influence for BAME staff to seek and achieve promotion opportunities.

As The Walton Centre is a small, specialist Trust we asked Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital Foundation Trust, also a specialist provider, to enter into partnership in order to increase the potential number of delegates.

I was delighted that The Walton Centre committed to the programme at an early stage as it needed a committed partner who understood the importance of the programme, and the potential long-term benefits it would generate. Deputy HR Director Jane Mullin was identified as the Trust lead and she set about recruiting potential CAs. At Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital Foundation Trust, HR Business Partner Rachael McDonald undertook the same role.

The programme itself is an intensive three day workshop, facilitated by RCN Equalities and Diversity Lead Wendy Irwin, supported by regional staff – in this case, myself and my fellow Senior Regional Officer, Sumbo Campbell.

Wendy had experience of delivering the sessions before, but both Sumbo and I were new to the programme and we approached the three days with some nervousness. Not least as the candidate list wasn’t fully confirmed until day one!

However, we needn’t have worried. The group assembled and consisted of nine candidates; eight Band 6 Nurses and one Band 7 Ward Manager, and they were a very friendly and enthusiastic group. Their commitment and passion was evident from the start and this helped us all to relax into the programme.

Day one was largely focused around the candidates sharing their stories and discussing their motivation for attending. There were sessions around the background of the programme and a discussion of the role facilitated by Wendy and Ian, interspersed with reflective sessions led by Sumbo. Day two led onto a review of legislation and metrics relating to equality, diversity, and inclusion.

The programme is, by its nature, quite intense and can be challenging, so each day Sumbo led our group through post-lunch ‘energisers’ consisting of a series of exercises to get the blood pumping!

The major element of day three was an extended role play session involving two professional actors in the roles of an investigatory team, consisting of a Matron and HR Manager. In a role I’m no stranger to, I was cast as a Trade Union rep, in lieu of an absent member. Sumbo’s was the voice of the CA candidates, articulating their questions and comments to the investigating team.

I found this to be a fascinating session, with the CAs really getting involved although perhaps their enthusiasm got the better of them at times! Of real value was when the CAs learnt to focus their energies into identifying bias and other indicators of inequality, rather than automatically adopting the role of the Rep.

At the end of an intense three days, everyone in the group was enthused and keen to take their newly acquired skills out into the workplace. Our first step is to organise a round of opportunities to ‘shadow’ investigations and hearings, and I will meet with the group every few weeks to assist the transition from learning to action.

On a final note, returning to the aim of empowering BAME staff, a side benefit from the programme is that both the employer and the CAs are keen to introduce the concept of CAs into recruitment and selection processes, which will hopefully begin to address the low numbers of BAME staff at Band 7 and above.

I’m looking forward to seeing how the newly-appointed Cultural Ambassadors develop into their roles, witnessing the impact on their colleagues in the workplace, and rolling out the programme to other Trusts within the region.




Ian Fletcher

Senior Officer for Greater Liverpool and Knowlsey