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Health Secretary’s stance on diversity roles is ‘playing politics’, RCN says

20 Oct 2023

Steve Barclay’s instruction to NHS managers to stop recruiting to diversity and inclusion roles creates ‘false division’, threatens staff wellbeing and patient outcomes.

Steve Barclay

The RCN has responded to a letter Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Steve Barclay has sent to integrated care boards in England, in which he expresses concern that many NHS organisations are “actively recruiting” leaders for diversity, equity and inclusion roles.

In the letter, Mr Barclay wrote: “These issues are everyone’s responsibility and should be addressed through normal management processes rather than using external providers or dedicated roles within organisations.” 

The RCN has been quick to condemn his intervention. Chief Nurse Nicola Ranger said: “The Health Secretary is playing politics and trying to create a false division.” 

She added: “Just earlier today, the care regulator warned the Health Secretary of damaging and stark inequalities being experienced by patients.

“The discrimination faced by staff and patients alike is systemic, it perpetuates poor health outcomes for patients and impacts the wellbeing of staff, including pushing them out of the health service. This government and the next has to turn that around.”

The NHS Workforce Race Equality Standard shows that Black and minority ethnic staff make up almost a quarter of the NHS workforce. But only 10% of very senior manager roles are held by people from these backgrounds.

“Frontline staff know the importance of diversity in leadership, even if this government is shunning it in a culture war,” Nicola said.

“Equality, diversity, and inclusion is critical to improving the culture of the NHS and delivering the best outcomes for all our patients.” 

A new State of Care report from England’s health regulator, the Care Quality Commission, confirms that staff from minority ethnic groups continue to have poorer experiences compared with those in white ethnic groups.

The report says that although the NHS is working to improve inclusivity in recruitment and promotion, last year white applicants were 54% more likely to be appointed following shortlisting compared with applicants from minority ethnic groups. 

Page last updated - 20/10/2023