Editorial

Are NHS race equality policies up to standard?

Finally, after months of lobbying from unions, NHS England and employers, the Home Office has accepted that there are not enough nurses in the UK. Last week the home secretary, Theresa May, relented from her previously hard line stance and made it easier for nurses outside the European Economic Area (EEA) to work here.

Finally, after months of lobbying from unions, NHS England and employers, the Home Office has accepted that there are not enough nurses in the UK. Last week the home secretary, Theresa May, relented from her previously hard line stance and made it easier for nurses outside the European Economic Area (EEA) to work here.

Her announcement also means that non-EEA nurses earning less than £35,000 a year will no longer be asked to leave once they have been in the UK for six years. This is welcome news both for thousands of affected nursing staff – the RCN calculated that up to 3,365 nurses working in the UK since April 2011 might have been required to leave – and for the NHS, which would struggle to survive without their contribution.

On the day after Ms May’s announcement, some of those nurses were in the audience at the annual conference of the black and minority ethnic (BME) group that advises chief nursing officer for England Jane Cummings. Part of the event was given over to celebrating the contribution of nurses from Africa, the Caribbean, Asia and elsewhere to health care generally and the NHS in particular. There were also case studies from organisations that are tackling race discrimination successfully.

Even boards serving diverse populations fail to take the issue seriously

Inevitably there was also an unhappier story being told, with evidence being presented that showed many NHS trust boards are still sitting on their hands in the face of incontrovertible evidence that discrimination persists. Roger Kline, an adviser to NHS England on the Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES), said that even boards serving diverse populations are failing to take the issue seriously.

As he rightly pointed out: ‘With any other problems the NHS encounters we look at data, listen to staff, talk to patients and relatives, look for evidence and take action, but we do not do this with race discrimination.’ Hopefully, the WRES will shake trusts from their complacency when the first league tables setting out their performance against various standards are released.

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