All but the most Neanderthal of public sector employers pay at least lip service to the concept of equal opportunities these days - witness the 98.9 per cent of chief executives who took the trouble to respond to an NHS Executive survey on the issue, and the 98 per cent of those who say their trust can boast at the very least an equal opportunities policy statement (See News, pages 2-3).

By comparison with much of the private sector - and even other public services - the NHS has much to boast of. Yet how many trusts translate the monitoring programmes and the fine words in their job advertisements into something which really benefits their staff, and by extension the NHS as a whole? This week's NHS Executive report is full of achievements at stage one (more than 90 per cent collect data on job applicants' gender and ethnic origin; a full 85 per cent have a member of staff whose specific duties include equal opportunities issues). But beyond that the picture is less rosy.

One has to wonder why some trusts bother having equal opportunities policies when just over half go to the effort of producing an annual report for their board, when only 40 per cent have a monitoring group to review progress, when little more than a third monitor the take-up of initiatives, and barely 30 per cent ask staff for their views.

And it gets worse. Having developed family-friendly policies aimed at improving recruitment and retention, most don't even tell their staff, according to research by Pay and Workforce Research director John Northrop (See Feature, pages 20-21). Small wonder that there is such a mismatch between the family-friendly opportunities trusts are willing to offer and the value staff place on them.

Will all this change? Many hopes will be riding on the human resource management strategy expected later this month, which will set out a national framework for the NHS in England for the first time. Certainly, as the man who commissioned the research, human resources director Hugh Taylor must be aware of the problems. The challenge he will face is in moving an already burdened NHS beyond the box-ticking fulfilment of targets to making equal opportunities a way of life.