Data exclusively obtained by The Pharmaceutical Journal from NHS trusts and health boards across Great Britain suggest a lack of diversity in management positions in a third of pharmacy departments.
Of the 87 NHS trusts and health boards that provided the latest available data (either for 2021 or 2020), more than a third (34.5%) said they did not employ any pharmacists from ethnic minority backgrounds at the NHS ‘Agenda for change‘ (AfC) band 8b or above.
In comparison, data from just two trusts (2.3%) showed they had no white pharmacist staff at this level.
This is despite the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) register showing that pharmacists from ethnic minorities comprised 47% of registered pharmacists in 2019, with 43% from white backgrounds and 10% unknown or undisclosed.
Newly qualified pharmacists usually begin their career at AfC band 6. Bands 8a to 8d cover more senior roles, including advanced and consultant pharmacists, as well as management of pharmaceutical services. Chief pharmacist roles are typically AfC band 9.
At band 8c and above, the effect was even more pronounced — 63.2% of the 87 NHS trusts and boards reported no pharmacist staff from an ethnic minority at this level. This compares with just 3.4% who reported no white pharmacists at this level.
Roisin O’Hare, president of the Guild of Healthcare Pharmacists, said that the guild was “very disappointed” by these data.
“The increased value and benefit of a diverse team in all settings has been widely published, not least in relation to innovative practices stemming from a greater breadth of experiences,” she added.
Elsy Gomez Campos, president of the UK Black Pharmacists’ Association (UKBPA) and of the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) BAME Network, said The Pharmaceutical Journal’s findings were “not a surprise”.
“I believe they may be worse if we break it down into different ethnicities.”
She added that the profession needs to “take seriously how we are recruiting into senior leadership roles”.
“In my experience, there is a widespread biased recruitment process embedded in our profession that we most stop allowing.”
This comes as a review by the NHS Race and Health Observatory, which was published on 14 February 2022 and looked at published evidence on ethnic health inequality, said: “These studies showed racism played out in the workplace to hamper ethnic minority staff’s career progression and professional development.”
“There is evidence for an ethnic pay gap in most staff sectors in the NHS, which was evident for black, Asian, mixed and other groups and less so for Chinese groups,” the report added.
Ravi Sharma, director for England at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, described the review’s findings as “truly shocking”.
“Ultimately, we want to see more ethnic minority colleagues in leadership positions locally, regionally and nationally. Without this, our perspective is bypassed, our skills and contributions are missed, and inequalities are perpetuated for patients and the workforce.”
Read our investigation, ‘A glimpse of pharmacy’s snowy white peaks’, in full here
Box: Official responses to our data
A spokesperson for NHS England referred The Pharmaceutical Journal to the 2020 Workforce Race Equality Standard report, and quoted part of the report that noted: “As at 31 March 2020, 21.0% (273,359) of staff working in NHS trusts and clinical commissioning groups in England were from a black and minority ethnic (BME) background.
“This is an increase from 18.1% in 2017. There were 56,715 more BME staff and 37,602 more white staff in 2020 compared to 2017. The total number of BME staff at ‘very senior manager’ pay band has increased by 45 (41.7%), from 108 in 2017 to 153 in 2020.”
A spokesperson for the Scottish government said it was working with NHS Education for Scotland and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society to encourage more people to consider careers in pharmacy, including underrepresented sections of the population.
“We are working to ensure that health board chairs have a meaningful anti-racist and wider equality objective that will make senior leaders accountable for meaningful action on diversity and inclusion,” the spokesperson added.
The Welsh government was approached for comment but had not responded at the time of publication.