NURSES from ethnic minority groups are to be helped to gain top NHS posts through a £750,000 programme designed to allow them to rapidly climb the career ladder.
NHS Lothian is set to give half of its nurses from black and minority ethnic groups places on an enhanced leadership course, assign them mentors and offer special coaching after securing almost £600,000 of lottery cash.
The scheme, which will also see 120 mainly white, Scottish nursing managers given extensive training to “develop their confidence to manage diverse and multi-cultural teams”, is intended to make the staff members’ applications for higher-paid jobs “more appropriate and of better quality”.
No other NHS organisation in Britain has spent more cash on a single scheme to improve workplace opportunities for black and ethnic minority employees. The move could help create more Martin “Ash” Ashfords, the character in BBC drama Casualty who rose through the ranks as a nurse before retraining and becoming a consultant.
It was today welcomed by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), although critics have questioned whether the huge investment is necessary.
James Glover, an NHS Lothian service manager who in his previous role as head of equality and diversity helped design the programme, said it would create a “much more level playing field”. The health board believes that as a result of the initiative, 25 more nurses from ethnic minorities will be in leadership roles within five years.
“This issue is pretty universal,” Mr Glover said. “There are a lot of factors, but we’ve done quite a bit of research and the nurses tell us they lack confidence to put themselves forward for leadership roles and think they could be quite isolated.
“Even if we might not treat them any differently, they think ‘I’m going to stick out like a sore thumb’. We’re aiming to achieve self-awareness, confidence, motivation and also real leadership skills.”
Despite NHS Lothian employing around 500 ethnic minority nurses just 12 are believed to hold posts above that of staff nurse. Proportionally, the figure would be expected to be around 150.
The health board had previously seen an influx of black nurses, and more recently has employed increasing numbers of Polish, Indian and Chinese workers. Previous, less radical attempts at increasing divers-ity in senior nursing roles have proved unsuccessful.
The health board has acknowledged that the initiative could “create tensions” between different racial groups, however, white nurses will continue to be offered similar training opportunities.
The funding will be spread over five years, with each nurse’s training expected to last a year. As they move on to higher positions, it is planned that they will become mentors to others starting the course.
Lynn McDowall, professional officer for the RCN, said her organisation welcomed all moves to help nurses reach their potential.
She added: “While it is concerning that even today special efforts still have to be made to support and encourage nurses from black and minority ethnic backgrounds to advance in their careers, whatever the barriers they face, NHS Lothian are to be applauded for recognising the issue and taking steps to address it.”
However, Jonathan Stanley, a hospital A&E doctor and UKIP’s acting head of policy in Scotland, questioned whether health bosses were “imagining a problem”.
“A lot of these nurses are trained overseas and are a very distinct population in terms of what they expect from the NHS,” he said. “If they’re going to spend this money, they need to ask is there a problem?
“The traditional role in Africa and Asia involves a lot more nursing and they don’t like our paperwork culture, many would rather be by the bedside.”