WRES, the data tell a story

Yvonne Coghill

February 14 2019

As expected, the first calls I got today, were from well-meaning folk wanting to share with me that the word on the street was that the Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES) wasn’t working; thanks, I needed that! The WRES 2019 Data Report for NHS trusts was published on 13 February and to be honest, the news wasn’t overwhelmingly positive in all areas.

So, let me explain what the WRES is.

The WRES was developed in 2015, and if you read the literature it makes it clear that the WRES is an initiative by which we compare the experiences between white staff and black and minority ethnic (BME) staff in the NHS. This is done by using 9 indicators.

Nowhere in the documentation does it say, that the WRESimplementation team are responsible for changing the culture of organisations in the NHS to make them more equitable for everyone, and to do that within 5 years; and in all honestly, I don’t believe that anyone thinks the WRES was designed to do that. 

Understanding race equality and how it manifests itself is key to understanding why the WRES is actually working. The WRES is raising awareness of race inequality in our NHS. Lets face it,  race is one of the most difficult and complex issues of our time. People being judged, classified and treated differently based on the amount of melanin they have in their skin is an age-old and quite frankly horrible problem. The issue is a global one and has been in the making for over 400 years. Systems across the world have been developed with this in mind, and the same phenomena that we see in the UK is also evident in the US, Canada, Australia and Europe. People of colour have a worse experience across the board than their white counterparts. This is distressing and shocking for some but it’s the lived experience of many others. Thisimage below highlights an issue faced by black women in this country. There is a mountain of data that shows that in health, wealth, education and the judiciary, people of colour,experience poorer treatment and often poorer outcomes for them and their families. 

What the WRES seeks to do is draw attention to these inequities in our NHS in the hope that organisations will recognise the issue as being unfair and, with expert support, seek to do something about closing the inequality gaps. The WRES has created a social movement on the agenda; it is creating psychologically safe spaces for people to raise concerns (some of which we see reflected in the latest WRES data). From that perspective the WRES is a success. I would argue that most people in the NHS know what the WRES is and people are beginning to develop strategies to improve the experiences of its staff. I believe the NHS is much further down the road of acknowledging and working with the thorny issue of racial inequality than many other public sector organisations. I would go as far as to say that it is better than many private sector organisations too. It was only this week that it was announced that a third of FTSE 100 Companies would miss the target to have at least one member of the board from a BME background by 2021. My message to everyone reading the latest WRES data report for NHS trusts is, don’t shoot the messenger, acknowledge the issues and seek to understand them, then work tireless to ensure you develop a fair and just culture, which would benefit all of your staff but ultimately benefit all our patients regardless of background.