Almost half of the 240 NHS trusts in England do not have a single board member from black and ethnic minority backgrounds, new figures show.
NHS Confederation’s report has led to claims that the health service is in reverse on diversity, and could be suffering from board-level “groupthink”.
Since 2010, the proportion of chairs and non-executive directors of NHS trusts in England with an ethnic minority background has fallen from 15% to 8%, it found. And, over a longer period, the proportion of women in those posts has fallen by nine percentage points, from 47% in 2002 to 38% today.
About 77% of the NHS’s 1.3 million overall workforce is made up of women, throwing the figures’ significance into sharp relief.
There has also been no rise in the number of disabled people among non-executive leaders with the figure remaining static at between 5% and 6%.
The report, Chairs and Non-Executives in the NHS: The Need for Diverse Leadership, pinpoints two key factors why board-level diversity was in decline.
The first was the abolition of the NHS Appointments Commission in 2012, a body providing oversight to the recruitment of senior leaders that has not been replaced.
The second factor cited by the report was the creation of foundation trusts in the mid-2000s. These were set up as independent public benefit organisations and so there was no oversight or scrutiny of the non-executive appointments they have made.
Joan Saddler, director of partnerships and equality at the NHS Confederation and co-chair of the NHS Equality and Diversity Council, said the report had to be treated as a “wake-up call for a health service which is heading in the wrong direction and becoming less diverse at board level”.
Chair of Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust Danielle Oum, who is also co-chair of the NHS Confederation’s BME Leadership Network, warned that “diversity on boards is important for diversity of thought and the avoidance of groupthink. It’s particularly key for the NHS due to the make-up of its workforce and the population it serves.”
The report, written by former Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust chair Maureen Dalziel, recommends that a review of recruitment providers takes place “to ensure they are incentivised and can provide diverse shortlists for NHS organisations”.
Other recommendations include the creation of a role that would liaise with ministers on how to address the diversity deficit and extended remits of the NHS Leadership Academy and regional talent boards.
“Equality, diversity and inclusion,” stated the report, “is an area that the NHS needs to make significant progress in to reflect the spirit of the equality and diversity legislation and the NHS’s stated ambition to create a more diverse leadership.”