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Simon Stevens calls for NHS to lead a ‘social revolution’ on race equality

by Carolyn Wickware
17 June 2016

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Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, has called for the NHS to be at the “forefront” of a social revolution akin to the Black Lives Matter campaign in America.

Speaking on the findings of the workforce race equality survey released earlier this month, the head of NHS England said the results were a “complete disgrace, but it wasn’t a disgrace we didn’t know about”.

“The fact is we also need a black lives matter debate in many ways. It’s a debate we’ve not actually been having,” he said.

He added: “Wouldn’t it be fantastic if the NHS, as Europe’s largest employer and as the nation’s most trusted institution, could genuinely be the forefront of that kind of social revolution?”

The survey found that black and ethnic minority (BME) staff at three quarters of acute trusts reported experiencing more harassment from other staff members compared to their white colleagues.

Stevens said that the survey represented an “important way of holding a mirror up to ourselves, to hold ourselves to account for improvement”.

“But frankly,” he added, “it is just a toe in the water for a broader set of change that is required of the National Health Service and indeed across this country”.

Lord Victor Adebowale, non-executive director for NHS England, echoed Stevens’ point, saying, “The fact that we’re sitting here and having this conversation is because we failed.”

He said: “Race equality isn’t separate in my mind from doing your day job. 

“I don’t consider race equality to be separate from providing good care, good leadership, good organisational structure.”

Sir Andrew Cash, chief executive of Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, added that he has seen a direct correlation between “inclusion and higher quality of care to the people we serve”.

Cash also said that greater equality could save the NHS money, as it would mean more employees would stay in their jobs longer and fewer would take sick leave.

Furthermore, Stephen Dorrell, chair of NHS Confederation said, that to properly care for the whole community, “the NHS needs to look like and feel like the communities that it serves”.

However, Jackie Lynton, founder of In Hope of People and social change activist, highlighted the importance of good leadership in beating inequality.

“It’s not just leaders standing up and saying that I believe in this, its actually leaders acting, doing something, making a difference and actually engaging people in this,” she said.