In a letter to the heads of Integrated Care Boards, which manage local budgets, Barclay said the NHS’ budget would be wasted on DEI roles.
He wrote: “'Current live adverts include jobs with salaries of up to £96,376, which is above the basic full-time pay for a newly promoted consultant.
“I do not consider that this represents value for money, even more so at a time when budgets are under pressure as we work to tackle the backlog left by the pandemic.”
He added that if organisations do not fall into line, they should publicly justify their decision.
He said: “I would appreciate it if you could work with NHS organisations in your area [to cease] recruitment into standalone DE&I roles and external subscriptions to redirect these resources into frontline patient care.”
“Should organisations wish to take a different path then they should be willing to justify in public why such roles add more value than additional medical or healthcare staff.”
The letter sparked criticism from health bosses, including a letter from the NHS confederation, a membership body for NHS services, calling Barclay’s intervention "concerning".
The NHS confederation’s letter read: “It appears that the NHS has not collectively done enough to explain the reasons why most NHS organisations [...] invest in roles which provide advice on EDI to improve staff experience and retention, as well as patient care.”
The organisation pointed out issues including tackling racism and misogyny among staff, as well as inequality in care for patients who have protected characteristics.
A government commissioned review in 2022 found DEI roles should be used to tackle discrimination in the NHS.
One recommendation from the review was to allocate further resources to inclusivity and employee support.
It read: “While we recognise the continuous pressure that the system will remain under, we strongly recommend a re-balancing of time and resource towards supporting and developing the workforce and argue that this will quickly repay the investment in the form of greater productivity, efficiency and quality.”
Nadia Nagamootoo, founder of DEI consultancy Avenir, said if DEI roles are banned in the NHS it will exacerbate healthcare inequalities.
She told HR magazine: "I see DEI roles as money going indirectly to frontline care. If NHS professionals have a single lens of care and aren’t aware of the differing needs between communities then frontline care risks under-serving certain minority groups.
"There are a number of examples, Covid being just one, where we can see the disparity in care between groups of people. This direction from the health secretary is short-sighted and highly concerning, and isn’t too far from the US Supreme Court rulings of recent months."