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Fifteen white board members appointed at NHS agency criticised for racism

Published on: 28 Mar 2023

<p><strong>A national NHS agency which pledged&nbsp;in 2020 to tackle internal racism has since had 15 white people&nbsp;appointed&nbsp;to its board positions, alongside one ethnic minority appointee who left the organisation after nine months.</strong></p> <p><em>HSJ</em>&nbsp;has also learned that beneath the board level at NHS Blood and Transplant, two successive chief diversity and inclusion officers – both from ethnic minority backgrounds – have left the organisation on secondment, both within 18 months of being appointed.</p> <p>As previously reported, a hard-hitting external review found “systemic racism” at one of NHSBT’s main sites in March 2020, after which it&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">pledged to take action</a>.</p> <p>However, an internal report produced in October 2022, leaked to&nbsp;<em>HSJ</em>,&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">suggested there was a failure to implement several key recommendations</a>&nbsp;and alleged there had been “deliberate attempts… to conceal the extent of racial discrimination”.</p> <p>Despite regular calls from staff to bring minority ethnic leaders into the organisation, analysis of appointments and annual reports over the last three years suggests a lack of progress on this.</p> <p>Since March 2020, 16 appointments have been made to board positions (including three interim appointments), of which 15 were white.</p> <p>The exception was Stephen Cornes, who is from a minority ethnic background and was appointed director of blood supply in October 2021. But he went on extended sick leave in the first half of 2022, and officially left the organisation in July.</p> <p>Meanwhile, there has been high turnover in a key senior role beneath board level. Rosna Mortuza was appointed diversity and inclusion officer in July 2020, but she left on secondment to NHS England in December 2021. She was replaced by Pav Akhtar in March 2022, who is understood to have now left on secondment to an integrated care system in London.</p> <p>NHSBT would not comment on the departures of Mr Cornes, Ms Mortuza and Mr Akhtar, but restated its commitment and actions in tackling racism (full statement below).</p> <h3 id="HR_failure_a_common_theme">‘HR failure a common theme’</h3> <p>However, some staff sources have told&nbsp;<em>HSJ</em>&nbsp;there is a lack of meaningful action, which is the same message that some have conveyed to Roger Kline, an independent expert on workforce culture who authored a seminal report about racial diversity in the NHS.</p> <p>He said: “Staff who have contacted me from NHSBT struggle to accept that the new leadership is serious about tackling racism and supporting concerns from staff.</p> <p>“Recent efforts and reports to address the culture seem to have passed by staff who have contacted me. A common theme I hear is a failure by HR to be proactive and challenge racism wherever it may surface.</p> <p>“Sadly the data on senior appointments strongly suggests it will need more than coaching and statements to fundamentally change culture around senior appointments at NHSBT.”</p> <p>Mr Kline has also questioned why NHSBT is contesting an employment tribunal brought by Melissa Thermidor, the authority’s former BAME strategy lead, when an internal grievance process has already established she was subjected to racism, bullying and poor behaviours from senior staff<em>,&nbsp;</em>who were not named in the findings.</p> <p>NHSBT is a joint party in the case, along with former chair Millie Banerjee and former CEO Betsy Bassis, which could make resolving the dispute more complex.</p> <p>The following appointments have been made to executive roles since March 2020: Wendy Clark (interim); Jo Farrar (new CEO to start in April); Paul O’Brien; Helen Gillan; Patricia Grealish (interim, now departed); Deborah McKenzie; Gerry Gogarty; Carl Vincent; and Rebecca Tinker (interim). These roles were appointed by NHSBT.</p> <p>Appointments to non-executive roles are as follows: John Patullo (interim chair, now departed); Peter Wyman (chair); Deirdre Kelly; Joanna Lewis; Phil Huggan; and Charles Craddock. These appointments are approved/made by the Department of Health and Social Care.</p> <p>Meanwhile,&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">a recently published report on the organisation’s workforce diversity</a>&nbsp;said 6 per cent of ‘very senior managers’ were from minority ethnic backgrounds in 2022, down from 9 per cent in 2020. The national average was around 9 per cent. It also confirmed there were no minority ethnic board members at the end of 2022, compared to one in 2020.</p> <p>The report also suggested the likelihood of minority ethnic staff entering formal disciplinary processes compared to white staff had more than doubled between 2020 and 2022, while white staff were also now more likely to be appointed from shortlists&nbsp;compared to ethnic minority candidates.</p> <h3 id="Leaked_addendum">Leaked ‘addendum’</h3> <p><em>HSJ&nbsp;</em>has obtained a copy of a document titled ‘Addendum to the Globis report’, which refers to the critical external review by Globis Mediation Group in 2020.</p> <p>It refers to some “factual inaccuracies and accusations” in the Globis report that were made about the manufacturing department at NHSBT’s Colindale site, and offers an apology to staff in the department.</p> <p>It is dated January 2023 and appears to have been intended for publication, although sources at NHSBT said minority ethnic staff members objected to it, so it was never made public.</p> <p><strong>NHSBT response</strong></p> <p>We have stated clearly that our ambition is to be an anti-racist and intentionally inclusive organisation.</p> <p>We have taken many actions including delivering individual anti-racism coaching to all current NHSBT board members, we have expanded our Freedom to Speak Up service, delivered psychological safety training and are developing a middle management development offer.</p> <p>We have an ongoing programme to tackle racism, discrimination, bullying and harassment, which will enable us to do more, including a fundamental rethink of our practices to ensure we address systemic racism and bias.</p>