Time for difference: we need to make time to consider how we can make a difference.
Article Type: Column
Subject: Public employees (Management)
Public employees (Personal narratives)
Leadership (Management)
Leadership (Personal narratives)
Wellness programs (Management)
Wellness programs (Personal narratives)
Author: Coghill, Yvonne
Pub Date: 10/01/2009
Publication: Name: Community Practitioner Publisher: Ten Alps Publishing Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Health; Health care industry Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2009 Ten Alps Publishing ISSN: 1462-2815
Issue: Date: Oct, 2009 Source Volume: 82 Source Issue: 10
Topic: Event Code: 540 Executive changes & profiles; 200 Management dynamics Computer Subject: Company business management
Organization: Government Agency: United Kingdom. National Health Service; United Kingdom. National Health Service
Geographic: Geographic Scope: United Kingdom Geographic Code: 4EUUK United Kingdom
Accession Number: 209163251
Full Text: Most of us have very busy lives. We put our heads down and just keep going. When we come up for air and have the opportunity to think, that time is precious. I did not go abroad this summer, preferring to stay at home. Staying at home enabled me to come up for air, and for the first time in ages I was able to find the time and space to think. Uppermost in my mind was my current role and what I am trying to achieve.

Having been in the NHS for many years, my overall objective has always been to improve services that would have a direct impact on improving patient care. My role as programme lead for the national Breaking Through programme is a little different to most of the other roles I have had, in that the impact on improved services is not immediately visible. In essence, the job is designed to select and prepare people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds to become productive and effective senior leaders in the NHS.

Slipping down the list

During the last decade, the NHS has made resources available for the programme. This is due to an awareness and acceptance that as a nation we are becoming increasingly more diverse, and that diversity needs to be reflected in the NHS, particularly at the most senior levels.

I believe that, regardless of background, we all have a part to play in improving health services and that everyone has a unique contribution to make regardless of where they come from. My experience is that most members of staff in the NHS believe that too. It is therefore of real interest to me that despite the number of programmes and initiatives like Breaking Through, Pacesetters, Race for Health and others specifically aimed at improving equality and diversity, that the NHS cannot seem to crack the equality and diversity nut. The NHS has been successful in ensuring there is financial balance, reduced waiting times, lower MRSA rates, improved accident and emergency waiting times to name but a few. We are ready, willing and able to make major changes that improve and save lives. These areas have several common denominators:

* Potentially, people will die if changes are not made

* They have the absolute commitment of everyone in the NHS to do something about them

* They have high-level support and financial commitment

* They are politically sensitive and are therefore 'must dos'

* Senior people will be held accountable for failure on the issues involved. The equality and diversity agenda does not meet the above criteria, and therefore slips down the list of priorities when 'must do' items come to the fore.

Tall order

The NHS is a fast moving, ever changing organisation. We have new policies, procedures, strategies and initiatives almost on daily basis. We have a commitment to improve the health of our nation and to deliver a first-class service to our patients and their families. We need to do this within a tight financial framework to short deadlines and timescales, and we have a duty to keep the government and the population happy. Without a shadow of doubt, this is a tall order and one that our society demands we get right.

Is it any wonder then that people have very little time to think about the importance of a diverse workforce? Or time to think about how behaviours and systems can impact upon and affect some members of staff?

In the medium to long term, many difficult decisions will have to be made if the NHS is to remain sustainable and free at the point of need.


In light of this, grappling with the inequalities and unfairness inherent in its systems might seem untimely. However, I would argue that making and keeping diversity a priority might not be as inappropriate as it might first seem. The evidence is that if we want to make changes that improve the lives of patients, we can do so successfully. If we found the time to stop and consider the importance of a diverse workforce and how enriched the NHS would be by releasing the talents of all members of the workforce for the benefit of patients, we would improve care at a stroke, raise morale and improve retention rates.

Making a difference

At the beginning of this piece, I highlighted the fact that for most of us life is incredibly busy. Our diaries are full and we are constantly juggling work, family and friends. This leads us to generally put our heads down and 'get on with it'. We seldom stop to think about how we can really make a difference to improve services within our jobs. We are usually told what needs to be done and we simply press on with doing it. Making the time to think enables us to see the big picture and what we can do personally to make a difference.

With the commitment of senior leaders and a workforce that believes in the benefits of a diverse workforce, the NHS would be world class in the equality and diversity arena. We all need to take the time out to think of innovative and creative ways of instilling a genuine desire in people for making that change.

Yvonne Coghill

National programme lead, Breaking Through
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