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FEB 21/2014

How the NHS is fighting to promote equality for staff and patients

 

One of the most important concerns for people seeking jobs in the NHS is the knowledge that they will be stepping into a progressive, modern and egalitarian workplace, which will give them ample opportunity to succeed, no matter their background or identity.

In multicultural 21st century Britain, this has become an increasingly important objective for businesses and organisations of all shapes and sizes. Sometimes, this can be a difficult goal to achieve, given the significant cultural changes that often need to take place, but staff everywhere are coming to realise how necessary it is to strive towards this target regardless.

There is perhaps no setting in which the importance of promoting equality is more keenly felt than in the NHS - a service dedicated to providing freely-accessible, high-quality care to all as and when they need it - so medical workers and patients alike will be encouraged to see some of the progress that has been achieved in this regard over the last few years.

While there are always still improvements to be made, staff members looking for NHS jobs in 2014 and beyond can feel secure that high equality standards are being maintained - while patients can be equally confident that they will always be able to get the care they deserve, no matter their creed or colour.

Constantly striving to improve
In the last few years, the NHS has come on leaps and bounds in terms of its commitment to equality, thanks in large part to the introduction of the Equality Act 2010, which made it unlawful for NHS and social care service providers and professionals to discriminate, victimise, or harass a person because of their age, race, sex, gender reassignment status, disability, religion or beliefs, sexual orientation, marriage and civil partnership status, or pregnancy and maternity.

The law covers direct and indirect discrimination, with guidance from the Equality and Human Rights Commission available to help patients who feel they have been mistreated to seek redress.

Since then, equality standards have been written into the NHS Constitution as a key consideration for staff, while the NHS Equality and Diversity Council has taken a proactive role in ensuring these values are upheld.

Ensuring standards are maintained
The progress of the NHS on this issue was recently highlighted by a report from regulatory body the Care Quality Commission (CQC), which has embedded equality and human rights into its new model of regulation.

It now carries out themed inspections to address specific equality issues, including on dignity and nutrition for older people, and has set an objective for all of its inspectors to look at equality in their work, supporting them through a network of equality leads and a peer-learning initiative about human rights and diversity.

Measures it has carried out include the recruitment and training of a group of staff to act as Dignity at Work Advisors, offering support to other staff who have witnessed or been subjected to bullying and harassment. It is also actively working to examine how certain people - such as black or minority ethnic groups and gay, lesbian and bisexual people - experience care differently.

According to the CQC report, of the 17,297 inspections carried out against equality and human rights standards during the last financial year, more than 94 per cent of services were found to be achieving the required level.

However, the regulator is constantly striving to drive further improvements - this year alone, it has told 1,100 services to improve their work around involvement, respect and equality, taking legal action against a further 48 services.

David Behan, chief executive of the CQC, said: "Promoting equality and diversity is a means to an end and not an end in itself. The end is good quality care for all."

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