At last month’s NHS Confederation conference, Jacqueline Davies, NHS England’s Director of Leadership and Lifelong Learning, criticised the lack of diversity among the top ranks of the integrated care boards and called on NHS organisations to do better, saying that while substantial progress had been made on widening the background of ICB Chairs and NEDs, particularly with the appointment of more women and disabled people, when it comes to executive appointments, those figures decrease dramatically. There is indeed more work to do: only 3% of ICB CEOs are from BAE backgrounds. When we look at the provider community, things are not much better. We believe 43 Trusts have no BAE NEDs and only 8% of Trust Chairs are from a BAE background.

Our new report, “The Way forward: The experience of Black, Asian and Other Ethnic NEDs in the NHS,” undertaken in partnership with The Seacole Group, provides some useful insight we hope will help address these failures. Recently covered in The Guardian, it reveals that recruitment strategies that solely depend on passive advertising through job websites are less likely to attract BAE candidates for NED roles. BAE candidates are not likely to be searching for these opportunities as they often don’t realise that their skills and experience are sought by the NHS. NHS bodies should use contacts and networks (or of course executive search) to proactively reach out to potential BAE candidates and guide them through the recruitment process.

The report also highlights the positive impact those BAE NEDs who have managed to make it through to the NHS’s boardrooms are having there. It demonstrates that they are making a real difference up and down the country, drawing on the professional skills they have gained in a range of different settings, as well as their lived experience, to improve the quality of decision making and helping to drive the creation of more inclusive organisational cultures in the NHS.

But despite this, more than 27% of the BAE NEDs we engaged with told us they had seen or faced discrimination in the conduct of their roles. This serves to emphasise the need for urgent action by the leaders of the NHS to address the diversity deficit and make the NHS a more inclusive place to work.

We are grateful to The Seacole Group for working with us and the contributors who gave their energy and time to the research that informed the report. It is important for us as an executive search firm but also has wider implications for the NHS. Here at Hunter Healthcare, we will continue to work hard to “be the difference” that will help improve diversity and tackle inequality in the NHS and beyond.

I could end there, but want instead, to give the last word to one of the BAE NEDs I spoke to as part of the study:

“I would encourage others to consider taking on a NED role in the NHS. It’s a good way to help the health of the population and it’s very rewarding. I hear people say that they don’t understand the language, but NHS boards need people with a lot of different experience. It is worth doing; we all bring different skillsets to our roles.”

HH – The Way Forward – Report