Equality and diversity should be at the heart of workforce planning

Followers of fashion and football, and some economists with an eye on the bottom line, have estimated that the reappointment of Kevin Keegan as the manager of Newcastle United FC will increase attendance at work. They say the confidence of the city will improve and so sickness absence rates will drop.

There is widespread agreement that the bottom line is directly affected by the extent to which diversity is valued at work. It is time again to address what the next financial year holds. The question is, to what extent do diversity and equality feature as central to business over the next 18 months or so?

Improving access

Lord Darzi's plan for London is certain: to eliminate inequality through the reform of models of delivery. This aim is designed to secure massive clinical benefits for patients and clients - and to top it off, this will result in a better return on investment and reduce inefficiency. It's the ultimate integrated social and business case.

In London (with lessons for the wider NHS) that includes the development of a workforce plan that places diversity at its heart. Work is under way to assemble a profile of a productive workforce that is culturally sensitive, where each individual can extend their skills using investment in training.

The introduction to the operating framework indicates that 2008-09 marks the beginning of an ambitious three-year programme enabling local NHS organisations to have greater autonomy in determining their own priorities.

Improving access and responsiveness is a core requirement for the next year, in particular to transfer the lessons learnt from secondary into primary care. The framework records how leaders can make a difference every day to build staff confidence and support - critical to the provision of equitable services. The latest catchphrase that sums up the government's approach to the modernisation of the NHS and social care is "empowering patients: choice, information and personalisation". All improvements are going to have to pass the "personalised" test.

Workforce challenge

This demands more staff engagement and talent spotting - especially those leaders with a greater diversity of backgrounds and experience. The increase in education and training spending by 6 per cent (after a period of restraint) will create a great opportunity for employers to invest in personal and team development to deliver the framework's aims.

Improving access, emphasising the importance of great communications and the patient's right to privacy and dignity are themes identified in the Healthcare Commission's 2007 annual report. The NHS gets these factors right only when staff perform well and when their practice is grounded on the principles of diversity and equality. Regulators are increasingly relying on measures of staff and patient experiences to judge whether NHS employers are indeed getting it right.

The commission is assessing how far NHS trusts' race equality schemes are developed. Every employer could use business planning for next year to prioritise diversity and equality - and ensure that, this time next year, improvements can already be seen.