PJ view: Greater openness needed to melt the snowy white peaks of pharmacy

The results of our investigation into the ethnic diversity across NHS pharmacy management have barely scratched the surface.
Mountain peak with melting snowcap

Today, we publish the results of an investigation into the diversity in pharmacist management across the NHS.

We found that more than a third (34.5%) of the 87 NHS trusts and health boards that responded to our queries with usable data said they did not employ any pharmacists from ethnic minorities at band 8b or above of the NHS Agenda for Change scale; this compares with just two respondents (2.3%) whose data showed no white pharmacist staff at this level. 

These data are interesting and, having spoken to various pharmacy organisations, it seems these statistics surprise nobody. 

However, despite The Pharmaceutical Journal‘s best efforts, it is important to point out that this picture is far from complete; there are 240 trusts and health boards in England, Scotland and Wales, and we only have usable data from 87 of them. And the data we do have are difficult to interpret without any breakdown into individual ethnicities, nor does the information reveal actual numbers of people at different grades in the NHS.  

Despite these limitations, our assessment was that these data were substantial enough to publish, because the gaps in these data reveal something more fundamental about the importance that inclusion and diversity are given in the health service. 

When we asked NHS England for the complete data on the ethnicities of pharmacists at all grades in the NHS, we were told it “does not hold this information”. We received a similar response from NHS Scotland.

We look forward to a time when organisations within the NHS can be more forthcoming about these important data

In the end, we approached individual NHS trusts and health boards for data on the ethnicities of their pharmacist staff. This was a complicated process, collating data that were often incomplete, vague, or rounded up or down to protect against individuals being identified. This means that we could not collect absolute numbers or break the ‘ethnic minorities’ group into smaller, and perhaps more meaningful, groupings. 

Not all NHS trusts and health boards responded to our request; many were excluded owing to the quality of the data provided, limiting comparison and introducing inconsistences in the way these data are collected. 

There is a public interest in the presentation of data on the ethnic makeup of the NHS workforce and we look forward to a time when organisations within the NHS can be more forthcoming about making these important data available for pharmacy teams.

In 2015, the NHS Workforce Race Equality Standard was introduced in England, which contractually obliges all NHS organisations to report the representation of staff from ethnic minorities at all levels every year. This has shone some light overall. Doctors, for example, have had their diversity data published by NHS England. Why hasn’t this happened for other professions? 

Transparency and good data are important for better policy making. It has been nearly a decade since Roger Kline’s damning report of the same name on diversity across London NHS trusts. Kline’s data ignited a debate across the health service and its conclusions still resonate today. 

We can only hope that the publication of our somewhat limited data helps inform the discussion within pharmacy about the diversity of pharmacy at a leadership level, and this discussion ultimately leads to meaningful change in the NHS. PJ 

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, February 2022, Vol 308, No 7958;308(7958)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2022.1.127504

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