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NHS: Black and Minority Ethnic Nursing Directors

Volume 752: debated on Monday 10 February 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many Executive Directors of Nursing in the National Health Service are of black or minority ethnic background.

Data from September 2012 estimate that there are 195 nursing directors. Of these, five, representing 3%, identified themselves as being from a black or minority ethnic background. The Government recognise that there needs to be better progress in promoting talented BME nurses to senior and influential positions. Last month, NHS England launched a coaching and mentoring scheme, and it is currently working on a strategy alongside the Chief Nursing Officer’s Black and Minority Ethnic Advisory Group.

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for that detailed response, and I am pleased to know that NHS England is taking some steps on this. This is a hidden problem, with fewer than 3% of nursing directors coming from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. This underrepresentation, which is mirrored elsewhere in the NHS, is particularly important because it affects morale, and staff morale in turn, as noble Lords will know, inevitably affects patient care and outcomes. In other words, this is a health issue and not just an equal opportunities one. Will the Minister say a bit more about his plans to deal with this problem and, crucially, whether he will arrange for progress to be monitored and reported on publicly by the Care Quality Commission, the Equality and Human Rights Commission or some other independent body?

My Lords, I fully agree with the noble Lord about the importance of this issue. A strong focus on equality and diversity is essential to create services and workplaces that are equitable and where everyone feels that they count. The position at present is highly unsatisfactory. The Chief Nursing Officer has personally assured me that this is a priority for her, and she is working closely with BME nurse leaders to address how to support BME nurses to prepare themselves for promotion. Forty-six million pounds has been invested at the NHS Leadership Academy in schemes on leadership development being led by the Chief Nursing Officer. At last year’s BME nursing conference, she made a public commitment to renew efforts to develop BME nurses more effectively, and that will include monitoring.

My Lords, what figure, set by the Government or Public Health England, would constitute a success for the strategy that my noble friend has just outlined?

We have to be a little careful about doing anything that appears to look like positive discrimination or setting quotas, because we stray into areas of dubious legality if we do that. Having said that, as I have indicated, the priority of the Chief Nursing Officer is extremely clear and substantial resources have been put behind this. I pay tribute to the work that the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, did when he was NHS Chief Executive. We have picked up a lot of the ideas that he promoted at that time. I would be very disappointed if there were not progress within a few years but one has to set a realistic time horizon.

My Lords, I refer noble Lords to my health interests. One answer to the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mawhinney, would be to point out that 18% of the NHS workforce in England is from a BME background and 14% of the population of England is from a BME background. As 2.6% of nursing directors comes from a BME background, that shows that there is a very long way to go. Is the Minister confident that NHS England is acting in accordance with the Equality Act? If he is not confident, what is he going to do about it?

My Lords, just to correct the noble Lord, the latest figure I have from 2012 is that total ethnic minority groups in nursing, midwifery and health visiting comprise 19.7% of the nursing workforce. That underscores the basic point that he made. One cannot aspire to 19.7% of those ethnic nurses becoming nurse leaders because there is only a limited number of leadership posts. However, we are clear that this should be a priority for the NHS.

The answer to the noble Lord’s second question is that the Equality and Diversity Council has published some refreshed guidelines. One of its goals is to have a representative and supportive workforce throughout the NHS. It is putting that in train by asking NHS organisations to monitor their equality performance jointly with their patients, communities and staff.

My Lords, ten years ago, the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, described the NHS as being snow-capped—that is, all white at the top. Since his departure as Chief Executive of the NHS in 2005, there are now fewer leaders from visibly different backgrounds and, as we have heard, pitifully few executive directors of nursing. What are the Government doing to ensure that this matter is kept at the top of the agenda and to assure us that we will hear about the success of the programme as it continues?

My Lords, I have already mentioned some of the initiatives that are in train. However, I can tell my noble friend that, within the NHS Leadership Academy, there are two programmes specifically for nurses and midwives that map to foundation, mid and executive level leadership development. There is the front-line leadership programme which is for staff who have leadership responsibilities—for example, ward sisters and nurses working in primary care. We expect 6,000 nurses and midwives to participate in that programme in the first year. There is also the senior operational leaders programme which provides senior nursing clinicians with an opportunity to enhance their leadership skills.

My Lords, a web audit found that only 80 NHS trusts publish annual staff data broken down by ethnicity. Will the Minister reassure the House that all NHS trusts meet their legal obligations under the Race Relations Act and that all workforce issues faced by black and minority ethnic staff are identified?

My noble friend raises a crucial issue about transparency. I can assure her that this is squarely within the sights of the Chief Nursing Officer and her advisory group.