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Equality, diversity and inclusion are no luxury for the NHS

This is about providing better care, not political correctness.

By Julian Hartley

The NHS found itself under increased scrutiny last week, with calls to cut spending on equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) roles. Steve Barclay, the Health Secretary, said NHS managers should spend the money on front-line services instead.

The implications of such a move are serious, and it is crucial to understand why a focus on EDI is indispensable in the health service, and why NHS leaders would want to ensure dedicated resources to foster inclusive values. Trust leaders are deeply committed to ensuring the health service remains a pillar of fairness, inclusion and, above all, high-quality care for all. They share the conviction that EDI is not just an aspect of NHS expenditure; it is a life-saving investment that benefits both staff and patients.

As a former NHS trust leader, I’ve seen first-hand the value of EDI in supporting open and compassionate cultures. The government-commissioned Messenger review, published last year, also underscored the importance of EDI and recommended embedding this responsibility for leaders and managers at all levels of the health service to ensure discrimination and inequality are tackled. The review serves as a stark reminder of why we should protect and foster EDI within the NHS, rather than dismantle it.

First, EDI roles are essential for ensuring that the NHS workforce reflects the diverse patient population it serves. The NHS is a microcosm of society, with patients and staff coming from a range of ethnic backgrounds, ages, abilities, gender identities and sexual orientations. EDI roles are the compass guiding us towards a healthcare system that responds to this diversity. It’s not about being politically correct; it’s about providing better care.

[See also: The Conservatives are bringing the culture war to the NHS]

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There is a wealth of evidence to support this. Studies have repeatedly shown that patients receive better care and have better outcomes when their healthcare providers understand their cultural backgrounds, personal beliefs and unique needs. A diverse and inclusive NHS enhances trust between patients and healthcare professionals, resulting in higher patient satisfaction and better medical advice.

EDI roles also play a pivotal role in addressing health disparities, like the fact that black men were over three times more likely to die than their white counterparts in the early stages of the pandemic. By having dedicated EDI roles within the NHS, we can identify and address these disparities, ensuring that healthcare is equitable for all.

Moreover, a diverse workforce fosters creativity, innovation and problem-solving, which are all critical in a healthcare setting and could help make the NHS the best health service in the world. Inclusive organisations also experience reduced staff turnover and absenteeism, which leads to cost savings and a more stable workforce. When employees feel valued and respected, they are more motivated, leading to better patient care and overall satisfaction. They are also more likely to raise concerns over safety and quality of care.

It’s important to note that EDI roles extend beyond the realms of race and ethnicity. They also address age and gender imbalances, disability and other underrepresented groups. By recognising the diverse needs and aspirations of all individuals, EDI roles help to unlock the full potential of the NHS workforce.

Cutting spending on EDI roles would send a disheartening message that diversity and inclusion are not a priority in our healthcare system. It would also hinder the NHS’s ability to combat discrimination and inequality effectively. In a world where healthcare should be accessible and compassionate for everyone, this is a path we cannot afford to tread.

Ultimately, EDI roles are not a wasteful expenditure in the NHS: they are a strategic investment that pays dividends in the form of better patient care, a more inclusive work environment that supports retention of valued staff, and the eradication of health disparities. The Messenger review confirmed the critical role of equality, diversity and inclusion in the NHS and recommended their integration into all levels of the health service. This is not just a moral imperative; it is a prescription for a healthier future for the NHS and the people it serves.

[See also: More than three-quarters of NHS staff have considered quitting]

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