As figures indicate that women continue to occupy relatively few senior positions in the NHS, one Lord has accused the health service of failing disgracefully to utilise the talents of women.
Additionally, ethnic minorities are poorly represented in the hierarchy of the National Health Service.
The NHS has instigated a two-year initiative in an attempt to address this problem, yet far fewer people proportionately from either group chair an NHS acute hospital trusts or ambulance trust in England.
Only 2% of NHS trusts are chaired by people from a black and minority ethnic (BME) background, while 15% of England’s population is of BME heritage.
Women are outnumbered three to one by men in the position of NHS trust chairs.
“The lack of women chairs is bad enough. But the BME proportions are disgraceful,” Philip Hunt, the Labour shadow health minister in the House of Lords commented.
Hunt was chair of the Heart of England hospital trust in Birmingham for four years until 2014, and thus is intimately acquainted with NHS operations.
The peer went on to accuse the predominantly white chairs of trusts of appointing people to key positions who are of familiar lineage and background to them.
“Too many chairmen want to appoint executives who are in their own image. It is clear that the NHS has a long way to go before the boards of acute and ambulance trusts are anywhere near reflecting the ethnic and gender balance of the population. This is a serious weakness which needs to be rectified as a matter of priority,” Hunt opined.
Based on current trends, achieving an equal gender split on the boards, as is a stated aim of the NHS, will not be achieved until at least the end of the decade.
Despite schemes being put in place to address the situation, there remains a clear argument for government to make some form of intervention in order to achieve the radical transformation envisaged.
Conversely, some will unquestionably oppose the initiatives, which effectively amount to positive discrimination.
However, an NHS England spokesperson acknowledged that the existing situation is unacceptable, and that action must be taken in the foreseeable future.
“This is an issue that the NHS must address. That’s why in June this year we published the first NHS workforce race equality standard (WRES) report, which gave feedback to every hospital and trust across the NHS about the experiences of their BME staff. While some employers have got it right, we know there’s a long way to go, and this first annual survey provides a transparent baseline from which we expect to see improvement.”
The spokesperson went on to outline some of the investment NHS England has made in order to achieve the aim of more health service equality.
“We’re investing £2m over two years (2015-17) in the WRES programme to improve equality in recruitment, board membership and career opportunities. This includes training and developing 75 champions based in trusts who will help reduce inequality and spread best practice.”