Equality and diversity issues are slipping off the NHS agenda as managers face increasing financial pressures and job cuts, according to the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).
Josie Irwin, head of employment relations at the RCN, told delegates at the NHS Employers diversity and equality conference last week that the government’s diversity policies had not had a significant impact.
“The reality is that the grand policies designed by the Department of Health and board-level discussions haven’t really changed anything,” Irwin said.
Staff are too busy coping with additional workloads to worry about diversity as hospitals and trusts face massive job cuts, she added.
But Surinder Sharma, national director for equality and human rights at the Department of Health, said diversity issues were clearly reflected in the department’s business agenda.
“Each member of our board has personal equality objectives related to their business areas,” Sharma said.
But he admitted the NHS needed to start taking equality issues more seriously.
“It’s no good playing at this,” he said. “In time, the NHS will have a single equality scheme and we have to set ourselves some clear goals.”
Carol Baxter, head of equality and diversity at NHS Employers – the body responsible for pay negotiations across the health service – said it recognised that more work needed to be done within the NHS.
“We need to continue building the business case for diversity and equality and keep the spotlight on the legislation,” she said. “We have to win the hearts and minds of staff and leaders.”