NHS employers will be ordered to meet a national standard in a bid to tackle racial harassment, the Department of Health is due to announce today.

The guidance is an attempt to reinforce the NHS's legal duty to promote race equality, brought in last year under the Race Relations (Amendment) Act which came into force last December.

The national standard provides a framework to ensure all NHS employers have effective policies in place to tackle racial harassment, and that these are properly supported and implemented.

It places responsibility on one executive member of the board for ensuring actions are taken to prevent harassment at work.

The guidance says black and ethnic minority staff should be consulted on the systems set up, and that policies should be jointly agreed with trade unions. It calls for strict monitoring of the policy's effectiveness, including reports on harassment at least once a year and the inclusion of the issue in staff attitude surveys.

The standard calls on NHS bodies to have a written policy demonstrating senior managers' commitment to stamp out harassment, and an understanding of what harassment is.Organisations should provide a range of procedures for resolving issues speedily, in a way that does not discourage victims from taking action.

Those drafting policies will identify organisational factors which are the main causes of harassment, and to provide a written policy covering harassment by patients, carers, members of the public and other agencies. The guidance forms part of an overall strategy, Positively Diverse, for tackling discrimation in the NHS.

Health minister John Hutton recognised that change would not happen overnight: 'Many of our staff will need new knowledge and skills if we are to rise to the challenge. But with the commitment of service managers and everyone in the NHS, we are determined to make that change happen'.