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Ditch recruiters who don’t deliver diverse candidates, says NHSE director

Published on: 17 Jun 2022

An NHS England leadership chief has criticised the lack of diversity among the top ranks of the country’s new integrated care systems, adding the low level of ethnic minority representation ‘really isn’t good enough’.

Jacqueline Davies, NHSE’s director of leadership and lifelong learning, said some organisations still treated recruitment to boards as an “amateur sport” and called on them to “really challenge” recruiters.

Speaking at the NHS Confederation conference, she said: “[If] your firms aren’t giving you diverse candidate pipelines, then please work with another firm.”

survey carried out by the NHS Confederation’s BME Leadership Network, reported on by HSJ earlier today, revealed more than half of the health service’s minority ethnic leaders had considered leaving the NHS because of workplace racism.

However, in interviews about the recent Messenger review into NHS management, health and social care secretary Sajid Javid has said the number of NHS diversity roles should be cut so “every penny” was spent on “patients’ priorities”, although General Sir Gordon Messenger himself has said this is not something his review recommends

Ms Davies, who is also managing director of the NHS Leadership Academy, described progress on widening the background of ICS chairs and non-executive directors as “amazing”, particularly for women and people with disabilities.

But she added: “However, when you move out to chair and NED appointments into executive appointments, those figures absolutely plummet. They plummet down from 30 per cent to 3 per cent, in case of colleagues from ethnic minorities, and it really isn’t good enough.”

NHSE and NHS Confederation were working on a recruitment compact to set “gold standard” for these processes, she said, adding: “You have to make [the recruitment process] transparent, you have to look in different places, and also really challenge your recruitment search partners. One of the big conversations we’ve had about senior board recruitment is asking our executive search colleagues and recruitment firms to step up to the plate and do better.”

Ms Davies continued: “You will be surprised – maybe some of you won’t be surprised – that people still see recruitment as a little bit of an amateur sport. Recruitment is probably one of the most fundamental things you will do when you put together your board and you do need to treat it professionally and seriously”.

Just one of 42 ICS CEOs is known to be from an ethnic minority background. Senior ICS sources have previously told HSJ the emerging organisations were a missed opportunity to increase the number of NHS leaders from diverse backgrounds.