The Department of Health has been urged to take a stronger lead on race equality after the Healthcare Commission found “immediate action” is needed.

A report published by the commission today says trust boards should review their performance on race equality.

It says that while there have been improvements, it is “unacceptable” that 1 per cent of chief executives in the NHS are from black or minority ethnic backgrounds, compared with 16 per cent of the total workforce.

“There is still a great deal of ongoing work and much more work to be done”

The review cites evidence from HSJ’s exclusive investigation that showed BME staff were disproportionately likely to be involved in grievances and disciplinaries.

It states: “This review serves as a reminder that there is still a great deal of ongoing work [and] much more work to be done.

“The DH needs to give stronger leadership on promoting equality and diversity in the commissioning and provision of healthcare, including [in] the operating framework.”

Reviews and audits

The report is based on literature reviews, audits of trusts’ websites and a 2007-08 review of 39 trusts suspected of not complying with race equality standards. Of these, 22 were primary care trusts, 11 acute trusts, three ambulance trusts and three mental health trusts.

Fifteen trusts were able to show inspectors that they offered ethnic minority staff personal development. Sixteen could not and eight could provide only partial evidence.

Twenty-eight trusts could prove they had an up-to-date race equality scheme. Four could provide some evidence, but seven could not show any. More than half of the trusts were unable to demonstrate they monitored their workforce.

Trusts struggled to show they had collated equalities data on people who had applied for and received training, been promoted or “experienced detriment”.

The review also includes best practice examples from 11 trusts. Newcastle PCT was singled out for its strong leadership and governance in achieving equality and diversity.

Care services minister Phil Hope said the report showed the NHS had improved its compliance with race laws. “But this isn’t just about complying with legislation,” he said. He expected to see high quality care for patients of all backgrounds and an NHS workforce “that is representative of England today”.

South East Coast BME Network director Vivienne Lyfar-Cissé, whose report on trusts in the South East Coast region is cited in today’s report, said: “We need leadership but that may not necessarily come from senior managers or the DH.”

While high level commitment was needed, she said, people such as ward managers were best placed to ensure improvements were being carried out.