Health minister says criticism over racial equality was ‘wake-up call’

The Commission for Racial Equality’s (CRE) criticism of the Department of Health (DoH) earlier this year was a real “wake-up call”, according to Rosie Winterton, minister of state for health services.

In August, the CRE accused the department of failing to meet its duties under the Race Relations Act and operating in a “shambolic” and “reckless” way.

Winterton told delegates at the NHS Employers diversity and equality conference last week that, as a result of the complaint, the DoH was working towards a single equality agenda and was reviewing its processes.

“The department is working with equality commissions to ensure equality issues are given priority in policies and that it’s at the heart of policy making,” she said.

“We need to understand that equality and human rights are major concerns,” she added. “There’s no better time than now.”

The Healthcare Commission report, which prompted the CRE criticism, found that just seven in 570 trusts had published equality information on their websites. Winterton said the findings had also made an impact on the Whitehall policy department.

“All parts of the NHS need to be focusing on equality and diversity,” she said. “It’s got to be central to the current change process.”

Equality audit hint

Rosie Winterton was also quizzed on the importance of equality and diversity monitoring during the NHS Foundation Trust accreditation process.

The government wants to set up more autonomous foundation trusts, accountable to local communities rather than central government. There are 52 foundation trusts, with more applications in the pipeline, but there is no process for reviewing trusts’ equality and diversity policies.

Steve Barnett, director of NHS Employers said: “I don’t know how you can be considered an excellent employer if you are not taking equality and diversity seriously.”

Winterton said the government might monitor these areas as part of any future accreditation process.

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