NHS becoming less diverse at board level, report reveals

RCN warns nurses see lack of opportunity for women, BME staff and those with disabilities
Female and BME board members at a meeting

RCN warns nurses see lack of opportunity for women, BME staff and those with disabilities

Picture: iStock

Lack of diversity on NHS boards is leading many nurses to believe equality of opportunity in the health service is a myth.

That’s the warning from the RCN, after a new report revealed falling rates of women and people from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds in NHS boardrooms.

The percentage of chairs and non-executive directors of NHS trusts in England from a BME background almost halved from 15% in 2010 to 8% in 2018, according to the report from the NHS Confederation. Meanwhile, the proportion of women in those positions dropped from 47% in 2002 to 38% in 2018.

In contrast, the report says, more than three quarters of the NHS’s total workforce is female and 19% of staff are from a BME background.

A factor in promotion

Responding to the figures, RCN general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair said: ‘Many nursing professionals are starting to believe that equality of opportunity in the NHS is a myth.

Dame Donna Kinnair.
Picture: John Houlihan

‘We still hear from our members that they are not consulted on clinical decisions or are passed over for promotion, and the only explanation appears to be their race or gender.

‘The way to prove to hard-working NHS staff that things are changing is to make way at the top and diversify the health service’s boardrooms.'

The report said factors that may have affected board diversity include the abolition of the NHS Appointments Commission in 2012 and the creation of foundation trusts in the mid-2000s.

It also found no increase in the proportion of non-executive leaders with a disability, which has remained static at 5-6%.

Review the appointments process

NHS Confederation called for a review of the current appointments process.

Its director of partnerships and equality, Joan Saddler, said chairs and non-executives leading NHS organisations must be accountable to and represent their staff and communities they serve.

She added: ‘This report must be a wake-up call for a health service that is heading in the wrong direction and becoming less diverse at board level.

‘We support the autonomy of foundation trusts but we must find a way of developing inclusive top teams.’

‘Diversity on NHS boards is not in decline’

Find out more

Read the report – Chairs and non-executives in the NHS: The need for diverse leadership

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