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Disabled staff nearly twice as likely to face performance management

Published on: 12 May 2022

Disabled NHS staff are nearly twice as likely to face formal questions over their ability to do their job than their non-disabled colleagues, an NHS England report has revealed.

The annual workforce disability equality standard, published this week, found the figure of relative likelihood for disabled staff to enter capability processes had increased from 1.53 in 2020 to 1.94 in 2021. A figure of two would mean disabled staff were twice as likely to enter procedures as their non-disabled peers. 

The report recommended trusts explore whether any staffing groups are disproportionately represented in their capability process and review their internal policies with regards to disability. 

WDES warned the “very low” proportion of NHS staff entering capability processes meant care should be taken when making trust-level comparisons, but added that national comparisons and trends were “still applicable”.

For WDES’s purposes, capability refers to performance rather than ill-health. Results from 2019 were not quoted as trusts submitted data on this metric voluntarily during that year.

Disability declaration at senior levels

The report also found the percentage of staff who have recorded a disability on the NHS electronic staff record had increased from 3.4 per cent in 2020 to 3.7 per cent in 2021.

The number of executive board members with a declared disability has also increased from 28 in 2019 up to 61 in 2021. The 2021 figure is the equivalent of 3.7 per cent of executives.

However, analysis also found people were less likely to declare their disability status the higher their salary band – a trend “consistent across all three years of WDES reporting”. 

The disability status is “unknown” – either because the person has indicated they “prefer not to say” or has not responded to the question in the ESR – for more than 20 per cent of the workforce, although this figure has fallen year-on-year. 

More than half of trusts (59 per cent) have five or fewer staff with a declared disability in senior positions, including bands 8a and above, medical consultants and board members.

Analysis of disability declaration rates at senior levels found 12 trusts with no staff who were declared as disabled. However, further analysis of these trusts – which the report keeps anonymous – also found those with low levels of “unknown” declarations have higher levels of declarations at senior levels, which suggests they have an “inclusive culture”.

Setting targets

Among its recommendations, the WDES report urged trusts to set an organisation-wide disability declaration target of at least 4 per cent in 2022 and closer to 20 per cent – the proportion of staff who have a declared disability or long-term condition in the NHS staff survey – “in the longer term”.

Christine Rivers, head of the NHS’s WDES, called the yearly increase in the number of disabled people holding senior management roles “encouraging”. 

She added: “To deliver the ambitious improvements in care set out in our [NHS] long-term plan, the NHS has to make the most of the talent, expertise and skill of every member of staff.

“It is crucial that hospitals and other local employers make the changes needed for the NHS to become an exemplar employer for people with a disability.”

Em Wilkinson-Brice, NHSE’s acting chief people officer, said: “The findings detailed in this report will help to inform future strategic development of the WDES and the actions that will be taken in 2022… we will continue to work tirelessly to ensure all staff are treated in accordance with our NHS values.”