Few speeches have spelled out the importance of equal opportunities in the government's modernisation programme for the NHS as health minister John Hutton's to the recent national conference for black and minority ethnic professionals and practitioners.
The comprehensive national programme should be applauded.
But our experience in Bradford - one of the country's most culturally diverse districts - mirrors his view that nothing will change unless the NHS is prepared to take risks and accept challenges by making it more open to local communities and to staff.
This trust serves a community where 19 per cent of the population is from black and minority ethnic groups. This is projected to increase to 22 per cent by 2001. There are no fewer than 66 recognised community languages.
Our goal is to provide high-quality healthcare to all the population - regardless of culture, religion, race, colour, ethnic background, gender, age or disability. We involve representatives at the outset - listening to, and understanding, the community's differing health needs.
We have long recognised the importance of working with the statutory and voluntary sectors, as well as community groups and service user representatives, in gathering information about their health, sharing the results with them, and implementing joint action plans. More importantly, we then work together in monitoring and evaluating their effectiveness.
By being proactive in developing this shared agenda, rather than waiting to respond, we have instilled a sense of 'ownership' and 'belonging' in the community with regard to their local NHS. There has been no shortage of good ideas submitted - and no lack of enthusiasm on our part in putting them into practice. As a result, Bradford has:
created a service equity steering committee, comprising senior managers and healthcare practitioners from the trust and community representatives from 10 groups;
developed equality standards for the provision and delivery of healthcare;
appointed a training and development officer for equal opportunities;
developed strong links with schools and careers officers to make children from black and minority ethnic groups more aware of NHS job opportunities;
provided Asian women with an 'open door' to access maternity services by staging of community based meetings with our bilingual health support workers;
pioneered training programmes to ensure discrimination does not take a part in the selection of new recruits - with a job application form which has been cited as an example of good practice by the Commission for Racial Equality;
established a multi-faith place of workshop at our hospitals, as well as appointing paid spiritual care visitors from minority ethnic religions;
shared knowledge and experiences with the district hospital in Mirpur, from where most of our Pakistani patients derive.
launched Urdu language classes for staff, and developed our liaison officer service to ensure the communication and cultural needs of all our patients are met more appropriately ;
worked in partnership with local suppliers to improve choice and quality of hospital meals for minority ethnic groups.
As recognised innovators in the field of equality, we have gathered examples of these and other areas of good practice in Bradford for our booklet, Diversity in the NHS , which is available to any NHS or public sector organisation by writing to me.
David Jackson Chief executive Bradford Hospitals trust