Nursing has long strides to make on the road to equality

With few nurses from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds attaining the profession’s most senior posts, transformational change is the next step in achieving equality of opportunity, writes editor Graham Scott

The celebration of Black History Month every October offers an opportunity to reflect on the extraordinary contribution made by nursing staff from BME backgrounds to our health and care services.

Sadly, we also find ourselves reflecting on the relative lack of opportunities afforded to staff who happen not to be white.

Slow progress

Recent years have seen progress, albeit slow. Yvonne Coghill, director of the Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES) implementation programme at NHS England, points out in this week’s Nursing Standard that there have been increases in the number of BME nurses at each of the more senior NHS pay grades, from band 6 upwards, over the past year.

Looking at the data in more detail it becomes clear that there is still considerable progress to be made. Almost a quarter of nurses in England are from BME backgrounds, yet there are only six who have made it through to the highest pay band and only 216 who have reached band 8 or higher.

Next phase

BME nurses have been working in the health service since its inception in 1948, and in large numbers for more than 50 years, so these figures suggest there is still much to be done to ensure equality of opportunity.

NHS England is taking this seriously, and the next phase of the WRES programme will focus on helping employers to implement transformational change. All power to Ms Coghill and her colleagues to make this happen.