Joanna Williams Joanna Williams

Has the NHS forgotten its real purpose?

(Credit: Getty images)

As doctors down stethoscopes and walk out of hospitals in their ongoing strike for better pay and working conditions, the public might reasonably conclude that the NHS is underfunded. How, then, do we make sense of this week’s revelation that NHS England is set to open three new departments focusing on equality and diversity? Either there are insufficient funds to pay doctors and nurses a decent wage or there is money to splash out on rainbow lanyards and unconscious bias training. Both cannot be true at the same time.

The three new NHS England departments, set to open in April 2024, will be called ‘Equality, Diversity and Inclusion’, ‘People and Culture’ and ‘People and Communities’. I am no highly-paid inclusivity expert, but it strikes me there is potentially some overlap here. Are the ‘communities’ and ‘culture’ staff not also concerned with equality, diversity and inclusion? And what about all the existing human resource officers? Are we to believe they are unconcerned about the employment rights of transgender nurses?

The phrase ‘jobs for the boys’ comes to mind, but it is no doubt outlawed as transphobic

None of this potential duplication seems likely to prevent the new centres from employing 244 people at a cost, the Daily Telegraph has uncovered, of almost £14 million. The dedicated Equality Diversity and Inclusion department alone looks set to spend £3 million employing 50 people.

The establishment of new departments with the same core purpose, the numbers of people to be employed in non-clinical roles, and the vast sums of money to be given over to these politicised concerns, all suggest this grand reorganisation plan is little more than a job creation scheme for diversity bureaucrats.

The phrase ‘jobs for the boys’ comes to mind, but it is no doubt outlawed as transphobic by multiple NHS style guides. Yet surely nothing else explains how senior NHS England officials, overseeing a health service with a record 7.7million people currently on waiting lists for treatment, can conclude that what is really needed right now is a greater focus on diversity and LGBTQ issues.

Even without these new departments, the NHS has managed to find time and money for promoting identity-driven, non-medical concerns. Right now, the NHS Business Services Authority is busy celebrating Bisexual Awareness Week. Staff are urged to ‘come together to share experiences, celebrate, and support our bisexual colleagues and friends’. Whether this awareness raising involves cake or a lecture is unclear.

Meanwhile, the Telegraph also notes that the General Medical Council (GMC), the regulatory body for doctors, has been busy updating its internal documents by deleting references to women. In an apparent bid to be transgender-inclusive, the word ‘mother’ has been removed from maternity policies and ‘women’ from its menopause guide. The GMC prefers gender neutral phrases like ‘surrogate parent’ rather than ‘surrogate mother’. It is committed to supporting not women but ‘individuals experiencing the menopause’.

The GMC’s internal policy documents matter because the organisation is responsible for improving medical education and practice across the UK. The language it adopts helps set the tone for the rest of the health service. Indeed, it is a sign of how successful this project has already been that there are now plans for three new equality and diversity departments. And all this comes despite Health Secretary, Steve Barclay, having already ordered NHS England to put an end to the expensive proliferation of such woke projects in a bid to ‘ensure good value for money’.

The cash dedicated to equality, diversity and inclusion does not just take away from the pay of doctors or the medical care of patients. It begins to alter the very purpose of the NHS. Decking hospitals with rainbow flags suggests they are not there to treat people who are physically sick but to correct the wrong-thinking of those deemed politically sick. The goal of the NHS risks becoming the correction of public opinion – and senior managers have seemingly unlimited access to public money to meet this aim.

There is a grim irony to NHS England considering spending even more on equality and diversity projects in the same week that doctors and consultants take unprecedented, co-ordinated strike action. Patients, especially cancer patients, will suffer as operations are cancelled and their treatment delayed yet again. Lengthy waiting lists will be extended further, with potentially life altering consequences for some patients. In one breath we are told the NHS has money for diversity vanity projects, the next we are informed that nurses need to use food banks. If both are true then taxpayers’ money has been shockingly misused.

Right now, only one thing seems clear. Both the striking doctors and the woke projects show that, despite all the saucepan-banging and rainbow-drawing during the Covid-19 pandemic, the British public’s love for the NHS is not reciprocated. Those in charge seem to hold us in contempt. They do not want to cure us but to re-educate us. We deserve better.

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