NHS England’s chair has defended the need for ‘specialist skills to address equality, diversity and inclusion’, after Steve Barclay told local NHS organisations to stop recruiting dedicated EDI roles.
The health and social care secretary last night wrote to integrated care system chairs, saying they should stop the NHS in their area from hiring EDI roles, or have to “justify [it] in public”.
But in a statement just issued to HSJ in response, NHSE chair Richard Meddings said: “Specialist skills to address equality, diversity and inclusion in NHS organisations are vital for our staff and our patients – not only do they support statutory compliance, they also help improve culture and tackle discrimination, reduce vacancies, boost productivity and ultimately, ensure the best possible outcomes for the patients we serve.
“As the government-commissioned Messenger review [of NHS leadership] set out, dedicated professionals are necessary to help do this and as best practice is embedded we absolutely expect the number of these roles to reduce over time.”
In the letter to ICS leaders on Thursday Mr Barclay said he was “concerned” that many employers are “actively recruiting” into these roles.
He said: “Current live adverts include jobs with salaries of up to £96,376, which is above the basic full-time pay for a newly promoted consultant. There are also examples of continued use of subscriptions to external organisations on DE&I issues.
“I do not consider that this represents value for money, even more so at a time when budgets are under pressure as we work to tackle the backlog left by the pandemic.”
Mr Barclay wrote to the ICB leaders: “I would appreciate it if you could work with NHS organisations in your area to review with a view to ceasing recruitment into standalone DE&I roles and external subscriptions to redirect these resources into frontline patient care.
“Should organisations wish to take a different path they should be willing to justify in public why such roles add more value than additional medical or healthcare staff.”
One trust leader who had been sent the letter said it had caused “uproar” and they wondered if it may be a “spoof”.
Mr Barclay asked NHS’s arm’s-length bodies, including NHS England, to review their diversity and inclusion memberships earlier this year, after the Department of Health and Social Care withdrew from the LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall’s workplace diversity champions scheme.
He said they should do the same with “external subscriptions” related to equality and diversity – in an apparent reference to memberships of programmes run by Stonewall, which Mr Barclay has previously criticised.
Mr Barclay’s letter on Thursday said his view was that diversity, equality and inclusion “are everyone’s responsibility and should be addressed through normal management processes rather than using external providers or dedicated roles”.
Earlier this year NHS England began cutting its own EDI teams – as part of a wider restructure taking out 30-40 per cent of staff costs – although it still has some dedicated roles. It has argued it will “mainstream” EDI, rather than “parking it with a few”.
The full statement from NHSE chair Richard Meddings, issued to HSJ on Friday lunchtime, said: ”The NHS is absolutely committed to spending every penny of taxpayer’ money wisely – the NHS spends just 1.9 per cent of its costs on administration, significantly less than comparable countries and I personally find wasteful spending offensive. I am determined to work with the wider system to ensure that every pound spent in the NHS is to maximum effect.
“At NHS England, we are already making further saving and efficiencies – we are on track to successfully cut the number of head office posts by approximately 35 per cent, with savings expected to be at around £413m.
“However, specialist skills to address equality, diversity and inclusion in NHS organisations are vital for our staff and our patients – not only do they support statutory compliance, they also help improve culture and tackle discrimination, reduce vacancies, boost productivity and ultimately, ensure the best possible outcomes for the patients we serve.
“As the government-commissioned Messenger review set out, dedicated professionals are necessary to help do this and as best practice is embedded we absolutely expect the number of these roles to reduce over time.”
EDI work ‘essential’
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “We clearly need to do more to assist Mr Barclay’s understanding of the contribution that a focus on equality and diversity makes to our staff and patients.
“We know, for example, that staff recruited from overseas need specific support and assistance. The government’s commitment to employ 50,000 more nurses has seen 15 per cent of all nurses working in the UK come from elsewhere in the world.”
NHS Providers chief executive Sir Julian Hartley said EDI can “help create an NHS-wide culture where leaders feel equipped to deal with all forms of discrimination”.
He added: “The government-commissioned Messenger review concluded that EDI roles are vital and should be embedded at all levels of the health service to effectively tackle discrimination.
“Work to instil values and behaviours that help build a more equal, diverse and inclusive health service, which ensures fair treatment and opportunity for everyone, is essential.
“As the NHS faces over 125,000 workforce gaps, ensuring the psychological safety of staff is key to retention and recruitment, which ultimately benefits patient care and outcomes.”
UPDATE: This article has been updated to include NHS Providers’ response to the letter, then at 1.05pm on 20 October to include the NHSE chair’s response.