Only 5 per cent of trusts in London and southern England have fully implemented racial equality action programmes, despite a legal obligation to do so being only months away, a Commission for Racial Equality survey has revealed.

Although the survey reveals that 45 per cent of trusts had an action plan scheduled for implementation, or in the process of being implemented, it indicates that a great deal of work needs to be done to comply with a change in the law.

The Race Relations Act has recently been amended, introducing a positive duty on all public authorities to implement racial equality policies. The duty will be monitored and enforced by the CRE, following parliamentary approval of guidelines. It is expected that it will become effective from November.

A CRE spokesperson said the duty would mean that trusts would be legally obliged to follow its advice on implementing policies. 'If the trust continued to fail to do anything, they could be taken to court.'

The CRE recommends that equal opportunities responsibilities should be 'part of the chief executive's and all managers' job plans, and their performance should be measured against racial equality outcomes within their trusts'.

NHS Confederation policy manager Alistair Henderson said:

'It has to be a board responsibility and I think there is a real role for boards to take. There is still a huge amount to be done and there mustn't be any complacency.'

North Middlesex Hospital trust director of human resources Dr Claudette Asgill said of the development of race equality policies:

'If it is not driven from the top it is difficult.' She added that the most important message was, 'You can't underestimate the amount of preliminary work you need.You need to have the right policies and procedures in place.'

Poole Hospital trust human resources manager Marie Cleary said the fact that less than 1 per cent of the local population is nonwhite did not affect the work the trust had done on race equality.

She said: 'We considered race to be part of our approach to equality.'

She said awareness training had helped greatly in developing the trust's policies by giving staff confidence in tackling equality issues.