Surinder Sharma, the National Director for Equality and Human Rights at the Department of Health, gave a strong warning at the gender conference about the problems embedding equality duties within the NHS.
He has been monitoring progress on the implementation of the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2001 that already places a duty on the NHS to take account of race in service provision, similar to the duty which will be implemented for gender equity in April 2007. The Healthcare Commission recently issued a damning report on poor progress to date over race.
'In all of this, what is missing is leadership commitment,' said Mr Sharma, to applause from the audience. 'They all agree this is the right thing to do, but when we talk to them three months' later, leadership is totally missing. That's because it is not a performance management issue. They are not assessed for this ---so it is not keeping them awake at night. It sits somewhere separately, like human resources, but it has to be part of the organisation. If it doesn't it will fail.
'There has got to be expertise within each of the trusts. There has to be an infrastructure. This should no longer be within HR, but within finance and strategy.'
He acknowledged you couldn't ask the NHS to do 50 things at once, but that it had to look at only four or five. He suggested the priorities should be: carrying out an impact assessment; developing a single equality scheme; ensuring leadership accountability; embedding the duty in the fabric of the organisation; giving boards responsibility for monitoring equality and having senior managers to champion it.
'Unless you get some of these key things happening, we will still be here in the next five or ten years, as we have been on race for the last 20 years,' he said.
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