Are you a BAME nurse with a fantastic idea that could improve patient care?

Nursing care and innovation are hugely enriched when ideas spring from a wide range of backgrounds

Nursing care is hugely enriched when ideas spring from a wide range of backgrounds

  • All patient groups benefit if the people who drive service improvements have diverse heritage and life experience
  • Nurses from black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds appear to be under-represented in health and social care innovation
  • Experts advise on how to put your ideas into practice, and support team members to implement their innovation

Picture: iStock

A new report celebrates healthcare innovators from black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, while pledging to do more to encourage others to follow in their footsteps.

‘It’s really important to give due praise,’ says Richard Stubbs, chief executive of Yorkshire and Humber Academic Health Science Network (AHSN). ‘It’s a starting point and confirmation of our determination to deliver some improvements.’

Academic health science networks

The 15 AHSNs in England aim to bring together industry, academia, health and social care to stimulate care innovation

Distinctive contributions of BAME health and social care innovators

The Diversity and innovation report showcases a dozen projects that aim to improve the lives of patients and are led by health and social care professionals from BAME backgrounds. ‘It looks at what these BAME innovators are bringing that is different, and the communities they are seeking to support,’ says Mr Stubbs.

‘When you look at the reasons why someone has had the passion, drive and energy to innovate, you hear powerful stories. And that’s when you see the richness that diversity brings. For example, it’s about being inspired by a remote clinic in Bangladesh, with a diabetes model that will support south Asian communities. There will be people looking at these role models who think, I’ve got an idea and I should be saying it out loud now.’

‘If you don’t have a diverse leadership team, we know BAME staff are 24% less likely than straight white men to have their ideas taken seriously’

Richard Stubbs, chief executive of Yorkshire and Humber Academic Health Science Network

Projects include an award-winning software platform, Doc Abode, which matches the availability, expertise and location of clinicians to patients who need a home visit. The patient’s first language is highlighted, so they can be paired with a clinician accordingly.

Let’s hear more from nurses about what they want to change

While several of the 12 featured case studies influence how nursing care is delivered, none is led by a nurse.

‘Given the profession’s size, we’re not hearing from nurses as much as we should,’ says Mr Stubbs. ‘It’s something we need to talk much more about. The sustainability of the NHS exists in the ideas of our staff – so what is it that nurses feel could change? We need to drill into it further.’

Tips for putting your bright idea into practice

Picture: iStock

  • There’s no such thing as a stupid idea, says Yorkshire and Humber Academic Health Science Network chief executive Richard Stubbs. ‘Don’t talk yourself out of something before you’ve at least discussed it with someone else’ 
  • Find support, suggests Naomi Mwasambili of healthcare innovation organisation Chanua. ‘You need people who can help you develop your confidence, but also give practical help too,’ she says
  • It’s always about the patient, says Mr Stubbs. ‘So talk to them about what they need and how their experience could be better.’ And remember that nurses are ideally placed, adds Ms Mwasambili. ‘Nurses are the core of patient care, so understand their needs and the innovations that are needed’
  • Know the problem you’re trying to fix really well, advises Taz Aldawoud, whose company, Doc Abode, is among the case studies in the Diversity and Innovation report. ‘As clinicians on the front line, we see the problem in ways others can’t, which gives us an opportunity’
  • Remember that innovation isn’t always about big ideas. ‘Sometimes basic things can have a big impact,’ says matron and RCN Nurse of the Year 2019 Taurai Matare
  • You don’t have to be an entrepreneur to be an innovator. ‘There are “intrapreneurs” too – people who innovate in their role and organisation,’ says Ms Mwasambili
  • Don’t give up, advises Ms Matare. ‘There will always be someone who will listen, even if it’s not the first person you approach’
  • Find out who at board level is responsible for innovation in your organisation and ask what the pathway is to take ideas forward. ‘Then talk to your local academic health science network as soon as you can,’ says Mr Stubbs. 

More advice on how to innovate at work


Although NHS services should represent and reflect the diverse communities they serve, diversity makes sound business sense too, argues Mr Stubbs. In the report, he points out that companies taking the initiative and actively increasing the diversity of their management teams perform better financially: ‘These companies find unconventional solutions to problems and generate more and better ideas.’

‘My ethnic background has motivated me to do more because you want to prove you’re as good as anyone else’

Taurai Matare, matron, Barts Health NHS Trust 

Richard Stubbs of Yorkshire and
Humber AHSN

Innovators from diverse backgrounds are pivotal to reducing health inequalities. ‘In the NHS, 19% of staff are BAME [by background] and the number is rising,’ says Mr Stubbs.

‘If we don’t make sure we’re listening harder to the ideas coming from these staff, that’s a fifth of potentially good innovations we’re turning down, without even giving them a first listen. And that’s compounded when you think these are the ideas most likely to get to those communities we struggle to reach.’

To encourage innovation, organisations need to look at their culture, beginning with induction programmes. ‘What are we saying to staff when they join? What kind of organisation are we saying we are?’ Mr Stubbs says.

‘Do staff know where to go if they have a good idea or want to sound it out? Are there obvious and well-known pathways where staff can go from back of an envelope to “this could be something that makes a difference”. And does the organisation throw its arms around them and support them?’ 

Above all, key to getting those ideas off the starting block is diverse leadership, says Mr Stubbs. ‘If you don’t have diversity in your leadership team, we know that BAME staff are 24% less likely than straight white men to have their ideas taken seriously,’ he says.

‘At board level and throughout, you need to recognise that diversity isn’t a tick box, but a crucial ingredient in a successful organisation. Diversity shouldn’t be something that's done in a corner of the organisation, by people who have it as part of their job title. It should be implicit in everyone’s role – and they should understand why.’ 

How managers can foster BAME nurse innovators

Picture: iStock

  • Set the tone from the beginning – tell new staff at induction that innovation is welcome
  • Make sure staff know where to go and who to speak to if they have an idea
  • Encourage people from all backgrounds and levels to share their innovations, making sure their experience is positive
  • Reinforce the message that everyone can be innovator – it is not reserved for white men or those with particular job titles
  • Avoid marginalising BAME innovators. Do not assume their innovations are confined to race or culture issues
  • Ask searching questions. Is your organisation genuinely inclusive? Or are there barriers that prevent BAME staff from innovating?  

If you have a nursing innovation, don’t give up

Matron Taurai Matare has had to be resilient to drive forward her innovations. ‘Coming from a BAME background, you’re always compared,’ she says. ‘Sometimes the opportunities aren’t as available as [for] other colleagues and you’re not treated in the same way. It’s a matter of not giving up.’

In July, her work to create a one-stop eye care centre at Whipps Cross University Hospital in London – part of Barts Health NHS Trust – was recognised with the RCN Nurse of the Year award. ‘For me, my ethnic background has motivated me to do more because you want to prove to yourself you can do it, and that you’re as good as anyone else,’ says Ms Matare, who came to the UK from Zimbabwe more than 30 years ago.

She has had to overcome several obstacles along the way. ‘You have to learn how to pick yourself up and find a different way of achieving your goals,’ she says. ‘When you reach a certain level in nursing, from matron upwards, you face more challenges because there are very few BAME people in management positions. You may be the only BAME person in the room at some meetings. Even to contribute can feel intimidating.’

Nurse innovator Taurai Matare shows a colleague around a piece of scanning equipment
Taurai Matare (centre) briefs her team. Picture: Tim George

In addition, other nursing colleagues are not always as supportive as they could be. ‘When you try to prove that, as nurses, we can do it, you can find other nurses are the ones putting you down,’ she says. ‘I’ve been told I’m not a doctor and shouldn’t be working like one. They feel you have gone outside the boundaries of what they see as nursing and they don’t understand advanced practice. Nurses can shine and do amazing things – but sometimes we don’t publicise them enough.’

Nurses’ ideas thrive in an open, listening culture

The diversity of her team is a huge advantage, Ms Matare believes. ‘We have recruited staff from all over the world and everyone brings different skills from different countries,’ she says.  

All her staff are encouraged to suggest innovations. Those that have been put into practice include an idea from technicians to have a patient ‘floor facilitator’. Every day, someone is on hand to help the patients with everything they need, for example, checking where they are in the queue, explaining any delays and even helping them to call a taxi.

‘When I’m talking about diversity, race or culture, I’m listened to. But when it’s topics such as innovation, evidence-based practice and digital technologies, it’s more difficult’

Naomi Mwasambili, co-founder of healthcare innovation organisation Chanua

‘Sometimes people can be scared to approach you with an idea,’ she says. ‘Some come from cultures where you must respect your elders and those in power. If English is not your first language, you may not be able to express yourself as clearly as you would like, so your idea can be written off.  Here, ideas are coming from the team because we have a culture of openness and listening to people. No matter how simple an idea is, we encourage people to build on it.’

Naomi Mwasambili, co-founder of
a healthcare innovation consultancy

An assumption that BAME nurses can only have ideas about diversity issues

Naomi Mwasambili, who has a background in psychology, co-founded the Chanua healthcare innovation organisation in 2015. She says the assumption that BAME people should only lead on the diversity-related elements of projects marginalises talented innovators.  

‘When I’m talking about diversity, race or culture, then I’m listened to,’ she says. ‘But when it’s topics such as innovation, evidence-based practice and digital technologies then it’s more difficult for my experiences to shine through. Sometimes BAME people have to get past the race and culture conversation first, before you can get on with the work.’

There’s also an assumption that BAME people should lead on the diversity elements of a project, she believes. ‘It marginalises talented innovators because the focus is just on one topic.’  

Further reading

The ASHN Network Diversity and innovation report

Lynne Pearce is a health journalist

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