The health service has far to go to ensure its leadership is reflective of the ethnic mix of the population it serves, but there is still plenty to celebrate about diversity in the NHS

When we launched our BME Pioneers supplement last year, one of our motivations was to highlight and celebrate, first, the huge contribution people from black and minority ethnic communities make to the NHS at all levels.

Alastair McLellan

‘Improving representation comes down to a change of mindset and culture’

But second, and just as importantly, it was to emphasise just how far the NHS still has to go in terms of ensuring that, at a leadership level, it reflects the ethnic mix of the population it serves.

One of the most positive things to come out of last year’s supplement was how it resonated with our readers. Indeed, a year on, people still talk about it.

But, in truth, on the ground little appears to have changed since last year. April’s Snowy White Peaks of the NHS report by Roger Kline (who gets an honorary mention in this year’s list) showed all too clearly how progress towards better representation at senior, and even more lowly, management levels remains “glacial”.

That’s why, to our mind, BME Pioneers remains one of the most important special supplements that we publish.

There are, of course, diversity initiatives and equality initiatives galore out there. There are, too, many dedicated individuals who tirelessly promote this agenda at trust and community level.

But, ultimately, improving representation comes down to a change of mindset and culture.

Pause for thought

We fully recognise that just shining a spotlight on the reservoir of talent the NHS has at its disposal, but too often fails to draw upon, is not in itself going to change anything. But at the very least we hope it will give people pause for thought.

‘Some of our names are well known, some have up to now been unsung’

More than that, our hope is it will help to chip away at the ingrained (even unconscious) bias, prejudice and preconceptions that so often hold the NHS back; that it will send a powerful message about what the NHS is, isn’t and yet could be.

Our list of 50 pioneers does not pretend to be definitive; a list such as this is by its nature subjective and selective. But we are very pleased to say it is (and this is just as well when you think about it) a very diverse list.

This year’s pioneers are leaders, directors, managers, doctors, clinicians, nurses, academics, diversity champions, patient advocates and trade unionists.

Some of our names are well known, some have up to now been unsung. But what they are all doing is providing inspiration to those around them, inspiration that deserves to be recognised and applauded.

We hope, once again, our BME Pioneers supplement will spark reflection, engagement and debate – and please do join us on and on social media.

The judging process

For our second HSJ BME Pioneers supplement we sought to identify individuals from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds making outstanding contributions to healthcare.

Our focus was to celebrate people working within healthcare and from BME backgrounds who, through exceptional leadership abilities or their day-to-day example, are inspiring others and helping to shape and deliver excellent care for all.

In particular, we were looking for people whom our judges felt met one or more of the following criteria:

  • Benefit: How has this individual’s work benefited patients? To what extent have his or her efforts helped enhance access to and/or the quality of care?
  • Influence: To what extent has the individual been a game changer in his or her organisation, or more widely?
  • Leadership: To what extent has this individual created a platform for others? Has he or she enabled greater numbers of BME staff to take up roles at all levels of the health sector?
  • Inclusivity: To what extent is the individual having a long term impact on the debate around inclusivity within the health sector?

A long list was developed during August and September through a public nomination process. Our judges met at the HSJ offices in September to consider the long list. Judges were not prevented from being on the list, but did not take part in conversations about their potential inclusion.

The judges

  • Gail Adams Head of nursing, Unison
  • Melissa Berry Deputy head of equality and human rights, Central London Community Healthcare Trust
  • Dr Kailash Chand Deputy chair, BMA council
  • Yvonne Coghill Senior programme lead for inclusion, NHS Leadership Academy
  • Paul Deemer Head of equality, diversity and human rights , NHS Employers
  • Professor Ieuan Ellis Dean and pro vice chancellor, Faculty of Health and Social Sciences, Leeds Beckett University
  • Stacy Johnson Assistant professor, School of Health Sciences, Queen’s Medical Centre, Nottingham University
  • Alastair McLellan Editor, HSJ (chair)
  • Joan Myers Nurse consultant for children and young people, North East London Foundation Trust and chair of the chief nursing officer’s BME Advisory Group
  • Ruth Passman Deputy director for equality and health inequalities, NHS England
  • Dr Umesh Prabhu Medical director, Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh Foundation Trust
  • Professor Mala Rao Professor of international health, Institute for Health and Human Development, University of East London
  • Ricky Somal Equality and diversity lead, Southern Health Foundation Trust
  • Mike Travis Staff nurse at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, Liverpool, and Royal College of Nursing council member for the North West