Last week, I had the privilege of attending the chief nursing officer's BME conference. It was a lively event where I was able to reconnect with old friends and meet many of our Queen's Nurses.
I had naively expected to hear positive stories of how discrimination was now uncommon, addressed robustly on the rare occasion it occurred, and nurses from black and minority ethnic heritage were being treated equally in the workplace.
Instead, I learned about the deeply disturbing levels of discrimination in the workplace, evidenced both in stories from the nurses and reports from researchers such as Roger Kline.
Roger's report, Snowy White Peaks of the NHS, included the following statistics: the proportion of chief executives and chairs from a BME background is 2.5% and there are very few BME nursing directors in the UK, despite those with a BME background representing 19 % of the 1.4 million people working in the NHS.
The evidence shows that discrimination on the grounds of protected characteristics such as race are as real today as they were 30 years ago.
As a non-visible ethnic minority (I am Jewish), I have been knowingly subject to just one incident which revealed a serious and enduring prejudice in a senior nursing colleague. It shocked me to the core and I readjusted the way I approached the colleague thereafter. I was always guarded, never quite myself again and although I agonised about it, I could not face raising an official complaint.
This is just one incident in a whole career. It is absolutely nothing in comparison to what BME nursing colleagues live with on a daily basis and we need to do much more to address this issue throughout all the systems in our health services.
It was good therefore to hear from both Jane Cummings and Simon Stevens that they are fully committed to tackling the lack of BME representation at senior levels in the NHS. There is to be a consultation on a new National Workforce Race Equality standard.
This is excellent news for employees and patients, and I urge you to engage with this important consultation in the next few weeks.