Are NHS England and NHS Improvement serious about equality, diversity and inclusion?

The views expressed in this letter are those of the author. If you would like to submit a letter to The Pharmaceutical Journal, please click here.

Despite 6% of pharmacists and 2% of pharmacy technicians being black, there is little black representation in the senior leadership positions of many pharmacy organisations. Some have a total lack of black faces in top positions, such as the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), General Pharmaceutical Council, National Pharmacy Association and Association of Pharmacy Technicians UK (APTUK).

It feels, to me, that black representation is being kept from decision-making. But I had a glimpse of hope when I was invited to the Inclusive Pharmacy Professional Practice Roundtable, held by APTUK, the RPS, and NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE/I) in August 2020. However, I felt that it left out an important part of the puzzle: racial discrimination, which could be causing the vertical segregation of ethnicities from leadership.

I raised my concerns with the organisers, which led to a virtual meeting with Tracie Jolliff, head of inclusive system development at NHSE/I. And I was also invited to attend the working group to design the plan that followed: the Joint National Plan for Inclusive Pharmacy Practice in England, published in March 2021. Keith Ridge, chief pharmaceutical officer at NHSE/I, also informed me that there is a specific research project on “BAME representation in pharmacy leadership and in the workforce”, which will consider representation at each level of pharmacy.

Still, I feel the plan lacks clear guidelines on handling racism and ensuring that leadership is held to account on this; and this has been echoed by others. I want to know why such a critical topic is being avoided.

In December 2020, before the plan was published, I made a Freedom of Information request to NHSE/I about the diversity of their pharmacy leadership. A request that I believe should have easily been fulfilled, but was not by NHSE/I during the required 20 days; so I sought involvement from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

I want to believe pharmacy is ready for change, but I wonder if we mean it. Pushing forward equality, diversity and inclusion requires activism, transparency, reporting and monitoring. Organisations should share their ethnicity data, and tell us how they will improve it, if necessary.

On 17 March 2021, the ICO gave NHSE/I 35 days to respond, and I hope they will comply with this notice.

I have said it before: pharmacy needs an independent body to monitor and report racism. Change will only come from within, from those who are ready to ask the right questions and challenge the status quo.

Elsy Gomez Campos, founder and president, UK Black Pharmacist Association

NHS England and NHS Improvement did not respond to request for comment.

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, April 2021, Vol 306, No 7948;306(7948)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2021.1.77748

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