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Rethinking EDI in the NHS

Equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) is high on the agenda for most organisations. A recent report by HR and payroll firm, SD Worx highlighted that 68% of UK organisations are now committed to workplace equality.

Diversity and inclusion in the workplace can enhance productivity, innovation, collaboration and safety according to Action Sustainability, an organisation that helps businesses create inclusive workplaces. In the NHS this is even more of a priority.

The NHS has one of the most ethnically diverse workforces in the public sector, and the think tank The Kings Fund said addressing race inequalities in the NHS workforce is critical on multiple levels.

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Kettering General Hospital (KGH) in Northamptonshire is an example of one NHS trust that is leading the way in equality diversity and inclusion.

Over the past two years, it has overhauled its EDI strategy, including rebranding EDI networks, introducing training programmes to promote an inclusive culture and collaborating with recruitment, learning and development and employment relation teams to make EDI a golden thread within the hospital.

This move was in part prompted by the Covid-19 pandemic. With over 1,200 colleagues from different ethnic backgrounds, urgent action was needed to ensure staff felt supported during this difficult time.

While we already had several EDI networks in place to support staff from different backgrounds and walks of life, many staff were simply not aware of them or what they offered so driving engagement around the networks became a priority

We decided to rename our BAME network to REACH (race, ethnicity and cultural heritage), as some people felt the phrase BAME is self-discriminating. REACH felt more inclusive.

REACH is our largest EDI network, with around 400 members but there is also a disability and wellbeing support (DAWS) network; an LGBT+ network; a network for overseas doctors and nurses, a gender equality and a young person support network. All offer a safe space for people to talk freely and receive support.

To improve engagement, we needed senior level buy-in.

All the networks are fully supported by the leadership team and sponsored by the board. Each network has at least one co-chair – who have one day a month protected time to focus on the network.

If issues arise, the co-chairs and networks work closely with HR to manage, address and resolve matters.

We have resolution pathways that have been communicated out via the intranet, WhatsApp groups, organisational weekly emails, staff Facebook group, EDI Twitter feed, EDI network meetings and EDI Training and Facilitation session so people understand their different ways to raise issues, aiming to lead to some form of resolution.

Delivering accountability

Making people accountable has been a vital part of the process and we have trained staff to understand what unacceptable behaviour is. What one person might consider acceptable might be upsetting or offensive to someone else.

One training initiative is called ‘Building cultural bridges’, which focuses on talking about understanding the history of racism; racism and micro aggression; homophobia; sexual harassment; cultural perceptions; and unconscious bias.

The aim of the programme is to empower individuals to be culturally aware and sensitive; to create an inclusive culture where everyone has a sense of belonging.

We have also introduced inclusive recruitment champions, who are trained to spot unconscious bias and help managers make more informed decisions.

They have trained more than 30 colleagues since September 2021.

All job roles at Band 7 (manager level) and above, as well as all medical and dental posts, should have a champion on the interview panel. The future plan is to support shortlisting once more colleagues are trained.

We also mark key calendar events such as Black History Month to promote inclusivity. Last year we ran the inspiring ‘Proud to be’ campaign and shared poignant stories from staff to promote diversity and inclusion.

This launched with a staff video that included an introduction from Andy Callow, group chief digital information officer (executive sponsor for REACH staff networks for the group) and Simon Weldon, group CEO further highlighting the commitment of our senior managers.

Earlier this year we took another step on our EDI journey when we were awarded the Disability Confident Leader status, part of the government’s Disability Confident scheme.

By making EDI a priority, we are seeing a real culture change across the organisation. A clear vision and strategy, together with collaboration is creating a workplace where everyone feels they belong, with the support they need to thrive in their careers and have a positive impact on both colleagues and patients.

We want every individual to achieve their full potential with no fear of discrimination or prejudice. Career opportunities and/or work experience will not be pre-determined by ethnicity, nationality or colour.

Everyone has a voice that needs to be heard. EDI will be amplifying, championing and ensure positive action and initiatives are being delivered for our underrepresented colleagues and patients.

KGH is part of the University Hospitals of Northamptonshire NHS Group which has a vision to be an inclusive leader in healthcare. We recently welcomed Matt Asbury in July 2022 as the newly appointed group head of organisational development and inclusion to help us on this journey.

We hope that our work is an example of good practice in equality, diversity and inclusion and what can be achieved if senior management and HR work collaboratively.  We are now speaking to other NHS trusts and organisation on what they have achieved and some of the lessons we learnt.

Carol Verner is interim head of EDI at Kettering General Hospital NHS Foundation Trust