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Growth in minority ethnic NHS staff almost three times greater than increase in white workers

Published on: 19 Mar 2024

The number of NHS staff from ethnic minority backgrounds has exploded over the last five years, rising from less than one in five in 2018 to more than one in four in 2023, according to information released by NHS England.

Data from the latest NHS workforce race equality standard report, published yesterday, showed the proportion of trust staff from ethnic minority backgrounds reached 26 per cent last year, up from 19 per cent in 2018.

All seven NHS English regions have seen a rise of between around 5 and 7 cent percentage points. Over half of NHS staff in London are from a minority ethnic background, while the proportion in three other regions (East, Midlands, and the South East) is more than 25 per cent (see chart below).

There were 380,108 staff from ethnic minority backgrounds in March 2023, which is 144,570 more than the 235,358 recorded in 2018. This represents an increase of more than 60 per cent.

The number of white staff has risen by just 6 per cent (53,279) over the same period – and stood at 993,363 in March last year.

The trend was at its sharpest between 2022 and 2023, with the total number of minority ethnic staff increasing by 43,070, and the total of white staff actually falling by 71 – the second annual drop. 

HSJ understands that one factor driving the trend may have been a shift in international recruitment following Brexit, away from EU staff to non-EU.

Meanwhile, the proportion of ‘very senior managers’ from ethnic minority backgrounds has risen from 6.9 per cent in 2018 to 11.2 per cent last year. The proportion of minority ethnic board members has more than doubled from 7.4 to 15.6 per cent.

However, 6 per cent of staff did not disclose their ethnicity, which the report says “adds a large margin of uncertainty regarding the actual level of [black and minority ethnic] representation in the most senior roles”.

The report also analysed “race disparity ratios”, which provide a summary measure of representation of ethnic minority staff across pay bands when compared to their white colleagues.

While ratios among non-clinical roles have steadily decreased (improved), they have considerably widened (worsened) among clinical staff.

Navina Evans, NHSE’s chief workforce officer, said: “There are some positive improvements [in the data] including a higher number of people in senior positions in the NHS being filled by people of ethnic minority backgrounds and disabled colleagues.

“But we know there is more to do, and with the NHS workforce more diverse than at any point in its history progress is particularly critical.”