We must continue to improve the opportunities for the voices of disabled staff to heard; listening to and valuing their experiences and making improvements in response

In a recent blog by Hamid Motraghi, Deputy Head of the NHS Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES), we heard about the importance of Freedom to Speak Up within the NHS. Both in terms of the delivery of high-quality patient care, but also in respect of reducing discrimination and inequalities experienced within the NHS workforce to keep our people thriving in their careers. 

The Workforce Disability Equality Standard (WDES) complements the WRES as another rich source of actionable information on the workplace experiences of those with protected characteristics. The focus on reducing the inequalities that Disabled NHS staff experience makes the WDES unique as it is the only mandated workplace disability reporting framework in the UK. 

The 10 WDES metrics are mandated to trusts cover recruitment, harassment, career progression, recognition and representation within the workforce as well as on Boards and in senior leadership.  

WDES metrics data continues to highlight the disparities in experience felt by our Disabled colleagues and the areas where trusts can direct their efforts have the most impact. For example, our analysis of data from the NHS Staff Survey 2022 shows that each day, in each trust there is at least one incident of a Disabled colleague experiencing harassment, bullying or abuse from a manager. 

Another WDES metric, which aligns with Freedom to Speak Up, looks at staff engagement scores, which are based on responses to a series of questions in the NHS Staff Survey. Through the data we have collected annually since 2019, we know that Disabled staff are statistically less likely to feel engaged than non-disabled staff.  

With over 23% of respondents to the NHS Staff Survey indicating that they have a illness or long-term condition lasting 12 months or more, that means that 1 in 5 of the NHS workforce is likely to be covered by the legal definition of disability (as set out in the Equality Act 2010). 

We have recently engaged with Disabled staff networks and other disability expert groups in respect of a NHS Workforce EDI Plan, which will be published in early 2023. Through this engagement we have also heard of anecdotal evidence of where Disabled employees have raised concerns through Freedom to Speak Up, but there has been a lack of action taken in response.   

This evidence underpins why we must continue to work to reduce the barriers that disproportionately impact on Disabled staff within the workplace. We must continue to improve the opportunities for the voices of Disabled staff to be heard; listening to and valuing their experiences and making improvements in response. 

As we celebrate Disability History Month 2022 (16th November to 16th December) I would encourage colleagues and leaders to consider how they can support Disabled staff to raise their voices and work collaboratively to transform and make the NHS a better place for all our staff, patients and service users.