• Section of the People Plan criticised as ‘unacceptable’ by leaders
  • Concerns raised by NHS trust directors and policy leads on social media
  • NHS England’s chief people officer regrets ‘any upset or misunderstanding’ following ‘drafting error’

NHS England’s chief people officer says she regrets “any upset or misunderstanding” following criticism over an “unacceptable” section of the newly published People Plan.

Prerana Issar told HSJ there had been a “drafting error” in the document, of which a passage appeared to imply that being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer counts as a disability or long-term condition. This has since been corrected, she added.

The People Plan was published last Thursday, however, concerns began to emerge on social media yesterday and this morning. Including from staff who work at NHSE/I.

The Belonging in the NHS chapter previously said: “The Workforce Disability Equality Standard has begun to shine a light on the difficulties that colleagues with disabilities and long-term health conditions face. But there remain challenges.

“For example, we know that the majority of staff who identify as LGBTQ+ do not feel confident enough to report their sexuality on their employment record.

“To realise urgent change, we must work systematically and give these issues the same emphasis as we would any other patient safety-related concern. We must act with integrity, intelligence, empathy, openness and in the spirit of learning.”

Steve Russell, chief executive of Harrogate and District Foundation Trust, tweeted: “[I] absolutely support the focus on inclusion, and marginalised groups, but *surprised* is the politest word I can find to explain the [People Plan] suggesting (even accidentally) that being LGBT+ is a disability or [long-term condition].”

Jon Rouse, Stoke City Council chief and former leader of Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership, asked how the section “got through” the editing process before Mr Russell replied: “[That is] a very good question. Despite the support of my parents, I found it hard coming out in 1998.

“Twenty-two years later seeing this reminds me why, and sadly one might have thought things would have moved on.”

The tweet was retweeted 80 times and received 176 “likes” at the time of publication.

Dame Jackie Daniel, chief executive of The Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals Foundation Trust, said she had to do a “double-take” before adding: “[This is] not acceptable. The NHS’ LGBT+ staff need to be involved in the next iteration [of the People Plan].”

Gloucestershire Health and Care Foundation Trust chief executive Paul Roberts said it was an “error, I’m sure” but added it was one which needed “correcting quickly”.

Some put the section down to an error or “bad wording”, and others believe the People Plan does not include enough focus on LGBTQ staff. However, some say the plan does not include any discrimination against LGBTQ workers.

NHS LGBT Network, an independently-run social media account by Jourdan Durairaj, said: “Perhaps [NHSE/I should apologise] for the proof-reading? I don’t think there is anything homophobic, biphobic or transphobic about the [People Plan].

“There is already a national programme for LGBTQ workforce inclusion, let’s direct our energy to expand and invest in this plan and in responding to covid-19.”

In a statement to HSJ, Ms Issar said the body welcomes the “broad support” the People Plan has received from staff since its publication last week.

She added: “Unfortunately, there was a drafting error which has now been corrected and I regret any upset or misunderstanding.”

Following an update, the section now reads: “The Workforce Race Equality Standard has led to progress across a number of areas; for example, increases in the proportion of black, Asian and minority ethnic very senior managers. The WDES has [also] begun to shine a light on the difficulties that colleagues with disabilities and long-term health conditions face.

“Other staff groups also face significant challenges.

“For example, we know that a large number of staff who identify as LGBTQ+ do not feel confident enough to report their sexual orientation or gender expression on their employment record. And we know the weathering effect that microaggressions have on our people.”

UPDATE, 15.13: This article has been updated to include a comment from NHSE/I and the updated section of the People Plan.