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What is equality and diversity?

Although sometimes used interchangeably, the terms ‘equality’ and ‘diversity’ are not the same.

Equality is about ‘creating a fairer society, where everyone can participate and has the opportunity to fulfil their potential’ (DoH, 2004). By eliminating prejudice and discrimination, the NHS can deliver services that are personal, fair and diverse and a society that is healthier and happier.  For the NHS, this means making it more accountable to the patients it serves and tackling discrimination in the work place. (DoH 2011).

For example, occupational segregation. Women make up almost 75% of the NHS workforce but are concentrated in the lower-paid occupational areas: nursing, allied health professionals (AHPs), administrative workers and ancillary workers (DH, 2005). People from black and minority ethnic groups comprise 39.1% of hospital medical staff yet they comprise only 22.1% of all hospital medical consultants (DH, 2005).
In relation to patient care, research published in the British Medical Journal (2008) has shown that people aged 50 and over, but especially the old and frail, are not receiving basic standards of healthcare. Experts found shortfalls in the quality of care offered by the NHS and private providers to patients with conditions such as osteoarthritis, incontinence and osteoporosis.
An equalities approach understands that who we are, based on social categories such as gender, race, disability, age, social class, sexuality and religion – will impact on our life experiences.

Diversity literally means difference. When it is used as a contrast or addition to equality, it is about recognising individual as well as group differences, treating people as individuals, and placing positive value on diversity in the community and in the workforce.

Historically, employers and services have ignored certain differences such as background, personality and work style  However, individual and group diversity needs to be considered in order to ensure that everybody‘s needs and requirements are understood and responded to within employment practice and service design and delivery.

One way in which organisations have responded to the issue of diversity in recent years has been the development of flexibility in working practices and services. For example, an employer may allow an employee to work a flexible working pattern to accommodate child care arrangements, or a GP surgery may offer surgeries at the weekends to accommodate those who work full time during the week.

These approaches recognise that in order to provide accessible services and to ensure we promote inclusive working environments organisations may need to respond differently to both individuals and to groups.

A holistic approach means making a commitment to equality through the recognition of diversity.

Why is equality and diversity important?

Equality and diversity is becoming more important in all aspects of our lives and work for a number of reasons:

  • We live in an increasingly diverse society and need to be able to respond appropriately and sensitively to this diversity. Learners in the healthcare setting will reflect this diversity around gender, race and ethnicity, disability, religion, sexuality, class and age.
  • Your organisation believes that successful implementation of equality and diversity in all aspects of work ensures that colleagues, staff and students are valued, motivated and treated fairly.
  • We have an equality and human rights legal framework covering employment practices and service delivery and qe need to ensure we work within this and avoid discrimination.

Exploring the topic further:

Useful equality and diversity resources

Age concern: Health and Wellbeing:

Equality and Human Rights Commission, Age Concern: Life course influences and well-being in later life: a review. Institute of Gerontology, King’s College London and Department for Work and Pensions (2009)

Disability and healthcare:

Department of Health: Secretary of State Report on Disability Equality: Health and Care Services (2008)

Office of National Statistics: gender and health in the UK:

Gender and health inequalities in the Uk: A series of papers:

Tackling health inequalities for minority ethnic groups: challenges and opportunities.  Gurch Randhawa, Better Health Briefing 6 published by the Race Equality Foundation (2007)

Articles and information on race and public health:

'Racial' and Ethnic Inequalities in Health: a critical review of the evidence – Summary. University of Warwick. (Mark R D Johnson, with Deborah Biggerstaff, Diane Clay, Gary Collins, Anil Gumber, Mary Hamilton, Kip Jones, and Ala Szczepura) 2006

Harassment and sexual orientation in the health sector. Ruth Hunt and Katherine Cowan. Stonewall publications

General Medical Council, Sexual Orientation discrimination guidelines-

Department of Health Single Equality Scheme 2007 -2010
Some examples of how the NHS has mainstreamed equality and diversity into its work are:

Improving Working Lives An organisational change programme that aims to make the NHS an ‘employer of choice’ – particularly for women who make up the majority of staff.

Positively Diverse A strategic approach to managing and improving equality of opportunity for staff, and benefiting from the diversity of culture, skills and experience they bring to the workplace.

The Vital Connection equalities framework Aims to put values of equality, fair treatment and social inclusion firmly at the centre of NHS workforce policy and practice.

A gateway to information on the DH’s equalities work on race, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability.

'You can make a difference: improving hospital services for disabled people’ Disability Rights Commission/ NHS, 2004

Age and the workplace – putting the employment equality guidelines 2006 into practice’ ACAS

Maternity Care for Lesbian Mothers, Position Paper 22, Royal College of Midwives, 2000 (reviewed 2005)

Department of Trade and Industry – discrimination in employment pages

Cases for change – anti discriminatory practices, National Institute for Mental Health in England, 2007

Understanding the DDA – a guide for colleges, universities and adult community learning providers

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