NHS England and NHS Improvement have this month published 'A fair experience for all: Closing the ethnicity gap in rates of disciplinary action across the NHS workforce.' This document, which was accompanied by a letter to HR Directors across the NHS from the organisations’ Chief People Officer, Prerana Issar, sets targets for the reduction of disciplinary cases involving black and minority ethnic (BME) employees throughout the NHS.

The figures

In 2018, the ratio between the share of BME staff who were subject to disciplinary action and white staff was 1.24 (calculated according to the so called four-fifths rule where a figure of 2, or 20 per cent, is evidence of an adverse or disparate impact).   Although this figure is within the recommended acceptable or “non-adverse” range of 0.8 - 0.25, only 23.8 per cent of NHS organisations fell within this range, with 135 organisations having a ratio of more than 1.25, and only 41 organisations having a ratio which fell below this range. The document confirms that while the data shows continued improvement over time in this area, there is still some work to be done in order to meet the challenge of workforce race equality.

In what Prerana Issar calls “stretching but achievable goals”, a target of 51 per cent of NHS organisations falling within the “non-adverse” range is set for 2020, increasing to 90 per cent by 2022. The targets are national, and relate to all NHS trusts, CCGs and national healthcare arm’s length bodies (ALBs).

Whilst this aim is already one of the measures under the NHS Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES) strategy, this is the first time that specific targets have been set.

The wider picture

In addition to this objective, the document also sets out the related goal of reducing the overall likelihood and number of staff entering the formal disciplinary process generally, for both white and BME staff. In order to achieve this, the document reiterates the seven key recommendations made in the NHS England and NHS Improvement guidance on Learning lessons to improve our people practices, also published in July 2019. It also refers to the emerging just culture within the NHS and the move towards a more compassionate and people-centric method of addressing workplace issues, rather than immediately launching into formal disciplinary processes.

What to take away

NHS organisations are already taking steps to meet the standards required by all nine WRES indicators in place since 2015/16, and capturing the information required to report on WRES will assist in determining to what extent they need to improve to meet the targets outlined in this report. Organisations across the NHS are also encouraged to review their people management strategies and policies, in order to reduce the amount of formal disciplinary action across the NHS as a whole, and to focus on establishing a “just culture”.

For further information on how this issue might affect your organisation, please contact Nicola Green, Chloe Edwards or Andrew Uttley.