Did you know that May 13th – May 17th is NHS Equality, Diversity and Human (ED&H) rights week. A well-meaning and kind colleague asked me if I was doing anything special to celebrate the week. I pulled a face and said no. So let me explain my abrupt and prickly response to a seemingly innocuous question. To be honest, I have mixed feelings, no to be clear not mixed feelings, strong feelings about celebrating ‘issues’ like ED&H at a certain time of the year, for a specific and set period of time.
It feels to me that every week should be ED&H rights week. Equality isn’t something we should switch on and off as it suits, something we put banners and balloons up for, perhaps eat some ethnic food, drink a rum punch and then pat ourselves on the back and think what great people we are to remember equality and diversity. ED&H are values that as a society we have agreed are important and try to adhere to, ask anyone and they will tell you they absolutely believe in fairness and the decent treatment of all human beings regardless of background – that’s what human rights consist of.
Since the publication of the Francis report, the importance of compassionate care, treating people with dignity and respect has come to the fore. Indeed there has been a plethora of initiatives, conferences and programmes reiterating the importance of delivering high quality care – care that is thoughtful, kind and compassionate, in short, care that takes into account the needs of the human being. Surely it is the fundamental right of all patients to be treated with dignity, respect and fairness; however this is not the reality. We know that certain sections of the population get a consistently worse service from the NHS than others. People from LGBT backgrounds, disabled people, people with mental health problems and people from ethnic backgrounds, time and time again patient satisfaction surveys point to the fact that these groups in our population perceive that they get poorer care; we also know that staff from these backgrounds also feel they are not treated as fairly as others. These are issues that we should be thinking about every day of our working lives, how we improve the patient experience and engage with all members of staff should be at the heart of everything we do, not an optional extra.
The question I asked myself about ED&H week a while ago and perhaps a question you might like to consider is, should we really have a special week, 5 days out of 365, where we celebrate ED&H, think about the inequalities inherent in our system for patients and staff that are different? Should we wait until ED&H week every year to talk about the unfairness in the system and the importance of equality, then at the end of that week quite simply put the issue of fairness and equality on the back burner and go back to our ‘normal’ ways of thinking and behaving, perhaps even breathing a sigh of relief and thinking to ourselves, ‘Phew, thank goodness that’s over for another year”? For me, and for many other people in the NHS, equality is a way of life, it’s part of what we do and who we are, we try (though not always successfully) to live up to the values of being fair and thoughtful to people – regardless of background. So, as we commence NHS ED&H week today, if you do nothing else, perhaps you can make a promise to yourself to try and make every day, every month and every year ED&H moments where you consider and act according to the principles of fairness and equality and always consider peoples basic human rights in everything you do. We would be better people for it and for sure patients in the NHS would be better off for it.
May 13-17th 2013 is NHS Equality, Diversity and Human Rights week.