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Revealed: Trusts where most staff withhold disability status

Published on: 16 May 2022

More than half the staff at eight trusts have either refused or failed to declare whether they consider themselves ‘disabled’, an HSJ analysis has found. 

NHS England’s latest workforce disability equality standard, published last week, indicated more than a fifth of trust staff in England had their disability status recorded as “unknown” in 2021. 

This refers to individuals who have indicated they “prefer not to say,” or have not responded to the disability monitoring question in the electronic staff record.

However, HSJ’s analysis of the newly released 2021 WDES data has revealed there are some trusts where the disability status of up to two-thirds of staff is unknown. 

NHSE believes that not knowing the disability status of large parts of the workforce may undermine efforts to improve equality. In contrast, for example, data collected for the workforce race equality standard records an “unknown ethnic status” for just 4.6 per cent of trust staff.

Just 3.7 per cent of the NHS trust workforce is recorded as “disabled”. It is believed this number would be much higher if the proportion of staff whose disability status is unknown could be reduced. Disability charities estimate that about 15 per cent of the UK workforce has a disability. 

This figure is thought to be even higher in the health services and the WDES report encouraged trusts to set an organisation-wide disability declaration target of at least 4 per cent in 2022 and closer to 20 per cent “in the longer term”. 

Leaders have also been told to find out why staff who are disabled may not feel comfortable declaring this on the ESR, as the proportion of those who declare a disability is significantly higher in the annual staff survey. 

At 63.8 per cent, Dudley and Walsall Mental Health Partnership Trust had the highest proportion of staff whose disability status was “unknown”, and all of its clinical very senior managers and non-clinical senior staff had their disability statuses recorded as “unknown”.

The trust has since merged with Black Country Partnership Foundation Trust to become Black Country Healthcare FT. The former Black Country Partnership FT is also among the top 10 trusts for “unknown” staff disability status, ranking third after East Midlands Ambulance Service Trust. 

Regionally, eight of the 10 trusts were either from the East of England or the Midlands, while the remaining two were in London or the South East.

The WDES data shows trusts’ position as of March 2021. NHSE collected the figures from the ESR and HR recruitment databases.

HSJ approached the trusts in the table above for comment.

Neelesh Sutaria, EMAS’ head of wellbeing and inclusion, said the trust will consider all of the WDES report’s recommendations to ensure it “continues to be an inclusive employer”.

Kate Read, ESNEFT’s director of HR and organisational development, said the trust understands “there remains a stigma around disclosing a disability” for some of its staff and that “there is still more work to be done”.