The former head of the Commission for Racial Equality, Lord Ouseley, has accused the new human rights watchdog of failing to fight discrimination in the health service.

Lord Ouseley, chair and chief executive of the former body, spoke out after HSJ revealed exclusive findings on the barriers faced by black and minority ethnic NHS employees.

He told HSJ the Equality and Human Rights Commission, set up last year out of three former quangos including the Commission for Racial Equality, was "complacent" over problems in the health service.

He said: "We can't have enforcement bodies talking about equal play and doing nothing about it.

"They have a statutory power in which they can undertake investigations, separate from any internal investigations. But they'd rather have lunch with the NHS chief executive than go in with a big stick."

Call to action

Two weeks ago crossbench peer Lord Ouseley asked health minister Lord Darzi whether the government would ask the new body to take action against trusts in the South East Coast region for non-compliance with race relations legislation.

This followed a review by the NHS South East Coast BME Network, which showed trusts were failing on their race equality duties on a massive scale. Lord Darzi replied that the strategic health authority had been asked to take action.

Lord Ouseley plans to raise the issue again during debates on the Equality Bill.

The new equality watchdog's rights policy director Andrea Murray said much work went on behind the scenes.

It has not lodged any legal cases against health service organisations but is "in the process of discussing legal options with a range of bodies", she said.