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Raising the profile of disabled NHS staff

In the last 12 months a lot of work has been carried out to develop a workforce disability equality standard

“There’s always more to do”. This is a phrase that you’ll hear managers saying a lot. Success in one area can often expose the lack of success and progress in another. This is especially true in the field of diversity where managers often struggle to know where to start.

In recent years the NHS has made desperately required progress in the area of race equality; largely due to the success of the workforce race equality standard (WRES).

This focus on the poorer experience of BME colleagues mustn't mean that other areas suffer from a lack of attention, such as disability. In recognition of this, in 2015 NHS Employers partnered with Disability Rights UK in an attempt to raise the profile of disability issues affecting staff in the NHS.

The outcome of this work – Different Voices, Different Choices – showed that disabled staff were reporting a significantly poorer experience at work than their non-disabled colleagues. Subsequent research commissioned by NHS England and undertaken by Middlesex University reveals quantitative differences based on the NHS staff survey.

Testimonies in a recent NHS Employers disabled staff survey included:

  • "No-one seems to understand my disability, I have been punished because of the way that I have dealt with my work. I have autism, one of those traits is that I stick to rules. Then I get told not to stick to rules?".
  • "Disabilities are not looked at when sick leave taken".
  • "Until there is more understanding of physical and mental disability outside the visible I wouldn't recommend anyone to work in the NHS", and
  • "The minute you mention any health issues in an interview it puts alerts on the people interviewing. They may not be allowed to but discrimination is still there. Just because I have a life-limiting illness does not mean I can't work the same as everyone else. It is horrible to have people treat you differently."

Most worryingly the research suggests that while around 3% of NHS staff formally declared a disability to their employer around 14% of staff completing the staff survey (which is anonymous) declare themselves as having a disability.

It was clear that action was needed and so in the last 12 months a lot of work has been carried out by NHS England and NHS Employers working on behalf of the NHS England Equality and Diversity to begin developing a workforce disability equality standard (WDES), which will be implemented formally from April 2018.

This standard – which will be similar in structure and format to the WRES and is out for consultation – will be an opportunity for NHS organisations to see the gap between the workplace experiences and outcomes of disabled and non-disabled staff. However, the measures it adopts will differ slightly to those in the WRES, reflecting the different issues disabled staff tell us are affecting them (backed up by the data and evidence we now have).

As part of our work to prepare the service for this new metric NHS Employers is holding a Disability Summit, led by disabled people, on May 19. We hope this event will provide the platform on which the service can begin to sit up and listen to the thousands of disabled staff working in the NHS – and be the place where we begin doing the “more” that needs to be done.

Danny Mortimer is chief executive of NHS Employers