Many trusts are failing to put their own equal opportunities policies into practice, a comprehensive survey for the NHS Executive has suggested.

The survey of 420 English trusts found 98 per cent had an equal opportunities policy statement and more than 90 per cent collected information about the gender, ethnic origin and disability of job applicants.

But far fewer monitored or evaluated the results of this work (see box) and few trusts charted how staff fared once they had been recruited.

In addition, only a minority set forecasts or goals for the representation of women, people from ethnic minorities and disabled people in the workforce.

Elisabeth Al-Khalifa, head of the Executive's equal opportunities unit, acknowledged that trusts' data collection could be a 'token' gesture.

'People are collecting information but they not using it to make changes,' she said.

The survey findings were greeted with dismay by trust representatives and anti-discrimination campaigners.

NHS Confederation human resources committee chair Andrew Foster said trusts would have to renew their efforts to get policies implemented.

'The equal opportunities message is well understood and received in the NHS, and it fits in with the rest of human resources policy,' he said.

'But there is a nagging fear that the practice doesn't live up to the policy.'

The failure to follow through equal opportunities policies could reflect a lack of commitment at board level. Two trusts said 'none' when asked what priority the board gave to equal opportunities issues.

Sam Everington, vice-president of the Medical Practitioners Union and a noted campaigner against racial discrimination, described the findings as 'bleak'.

But he claimed that the reality behind the official responses was even worse.

'When I sent out fake job applications to trusts last year, nine out of 10 didn't even send back an equal opportunities form.'

Dr Everington said half-hearted implementation of trusts' policies reflected a feeling that equal opportunities had gone 'too far'.

'Some trust managers and boards think equal opportunities is about political correctness and all that garbage. It isn't. It is about getting the best person for the job,' he said.

The survey was commissioned last October from Industrial Relations Services Research. Its results have been discussed at a series of summer seminars.

Equal Opportunities and Monitoring in NHS Trusts. NHS Equal Opportunities Unit. www.open.gov.uk/doh/coinh.htm

See Comment , page 15; Feature, page 20.