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Racial equity in healthcare
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We need to take data-backed action to achieve racial equity in healthcare

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The time for talking is over. Here's why we need data-backed action and not words if we are to ever achieve racial equity in healthcare.

12th Aug 2022
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The Royal College of Nursing’s (RCN) new study on the state of racism within health and care is another stark reminder of the urgent need to address inequities within the NHS. 

The fact that white nurses are twice as likely to be promoted as their Black and Asian colleagues is shocking, but unfortunately not surprising. The findings come following the 2021 Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES) report, which demonstrated that even though there have been improvements in representation, we still have a long way to go when it comes to building inclusive workplaces. 

Data must be used to dive deeper, surfacing racist behaviours, measuring racial awareness and identifying the inclusion barriers amongst workforces

With the NHS facing more challenges than ever, creating a stronger healthcare system is dependent on placing inclusion and diversity at the heart of the organisation. Not only will this help to overcome the critical challenges faced in recruitment, retention and planning, but it is also essential to improving clinical outcomes and patient care. 

But change is not going to happen if we rely on the same approach time and time again. 

Why a data-driven approach is needed

Despite years of trying to address issues of racism in the NHS, there has only been a limited amount of success. To move the needle, we need to move beyond short-lived race equity initiatives and instead take a data-driven approach to identify where the problems lie, find the correct solutions to target them and measure progress towards significant change. 

While the RCN and WRES reports are a crucial part of driving progress, more needs to be done to map the culture of NHS organisations. Data must be used to dive deeper, surfacing racist behaviours, measuring racial awareness and identifying the inclusion barriers amongst workforces. 

HR professionals can play a role in changing the conversation. Using intelligent data-led insight, they can then implement targeted solutions to create racially equitable cultures, while at the same time effectively reporting on the progress of their live interventions. 

Data creates productive action 

The impact of racial discrimination over time can be debilitating. Alongside limited career progression, the RCN report found ethnic minority staff are consistently experiencing direct forms of racism and abuse. 

Not only do these factors directly affect performance, but they can also drive people to quit. In fact, a new BMA report found that nearly a third of Black and Asian doctors have considered leaving the NHS or have already left due to race discrimination. This is exacerbating the severe labour shortages within our healthcare system and having a knock-on effect on patient care. 

Heartfelt conversations alone are not going to change this current picture. Getting to the root of the problem requires using data to understand racial equity at a cultural level, which then enables organisations to make informed decisions about interventions.  

With the right tools and a deeper understanding of culture, HR professionals can make informed decisions on the types of solutions needed, as well as report on how successful they’ve been

HR leaders play an essential role in driving progress, ensuring that trusts are painting a clearer picture of their individual cultures from a racial equity perspective. This needs to go beyond representation figures; racial diversity alone will not fix cultures that breed racism. To really improve wellbeing and productivity within the workforce, there needs to be an emphasis on improving the lived experiences of NHS employees. 

In a practical sense, mapping cultures is dependent on having the right tools and metrics in place. Fortunately, several trusts are starting to use technology to measure and understand the lived experiences of their workforce. 

For example, the Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust and The Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust are both tracking more advanced analytics, including racist behaviours, inclusion barriers and levels of racial awareness. 

How to implement these targeted solutions 

With the right tools and a deeper understanding of culture, HR professionals can make informed decisions on the types of solutions needed, as well as report on how successful they’ve been. 

An example of intervention includes the implementation of a simple and transparent reporting process. This can help to counter the discrimination faced by ethnic minority groups in the workplace, which according to the WRES report is at the highest level since 2015. With a clear reporting system in place, employees will feel more empowered to report these incidents when they arise, and management will be made instantly aware of the issues. 

Building a support system for staff who have experienced racism is another way to create an inclusive workplace. Importantly, many racist incidents go unreported, which means creating a safe space for ethnically marginalised groups is key. This involves setting up appropriate counselling services and safe channels that allow people to talk about race. In addition, education needs to be at the forefront of all activities. Those subjected to racism are not responsible for handling racist behaviour. 

Finally, getting policies right is imperative. Data can be used to create policies with clear direction and guidelines for everyone in the organisation and will help to set realistic and consistent standards. 

Heartfelt conversations alone are not going to change this current picture. Getting to the root of the problem requires using data to understand racial equity at a cultural level

How do we create long-lasting change?

Throughout the pandemic and beyond, the NHS has been our lifeline. But the efforts of workers have taken a major toll and it’s been particularly felt for ethnically marginalised staff. 

Inaction is simply not an option. We need a different, data-backed approach to improve accountability and transparency – one that enables NHS organisations to measure and clearly report back on the impact of initiatives. Only this way can we advance racial equity in health and care.

Heartfelt conversations alone are not going to change this current picture. Getting to the root of the problem requires using data to understand racial equity at a cultural level, which then enables organisations to make informed decisions about interventions.  

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