Richard Stubbs is the Vice Chair of the AHSN Network, Chief Executive Officer of Yorkshire and Humber AHSN and leads the AHSN Network Diversity and Inclusion group. He also holds the role of Chair for the NHS Confed Black and Minority Ethnic Leaders steering group and was named one of the most influential Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic leaders in healthcare in the Health Service Journal (HSJ) Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic power list.
In this blog, he talks about turning a personal mission into a collective ambition for the AHSN Network, how the events of the last year have put inequality in the spotlight and the opportunity this presents for our health and care system.
In 2019, the AHSN Network made key pledges to demonstrate our commitment to diversity and innovation. These pledges ensure we promote and deliver equality and diversity in our leadership, our workforce and in the way that we carry out our work, and enable us to hold ourselves to account.
I have worked in the NHS for almost 20 years and throughout that time have been heavily involved in the equality and diversity agenda. This has tended to focus on our frontline workforce and our leadership cohorts. As my career moved more into the innovation and research domain, I realised that there was less of a focus on the positive benefits of greater diversity in this space, and also that the AHSN Network had a leadership role to play. Gaining the support of all 15 AHSNs, I lead the creation of our equality and diversity pledges to provide a commitment and framework that champions the business case for greater diversity in innovation. By committing to putting diversity and equality at the forefront of identifying and nurturing innovations and the innovators behind them, we can better serve all communities.
Due to our unique role working with the health and care sector, innovators, patients and the public, we recognised that the AHSN Network has a key role to play in influencing and delivering this agenda.
The events of 2020
All AHSNs committed to our diversity pledges and then 2020 hit. A year that will change our consciousness and perspective forever.
Coronavirus (COVID-19) took hold in early 2020 and shook the health and care system. For the AHSN Network, our business processes were turned upside down and we swiftly realigned to support the system.
The pandemic quickly brought health inequalities under the spotlight. The Health Foundation provide a good summary, highlighting the example that parts of Black, Asian and ethnic minority communities experienced a greater risk of exposure to coronavirus, revealing deep-rooted structural disadvantage for these groups.
During the early months of the pandemic, the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis sparked the Black Lives Matter movement. Not only did this raise public consciousness about police brutality, but also about the systemic disadvantage and challenges faced by Black communities.
These events have shone a light on health inequalities and the importance of diversity. I see this as a pivotal opportunity for us to drive forward change in health and care.
Living our diversity pledges
Over the last year, despite the challenges of the pandemic, we have stayed true to our diversity pledges. As well as living the pledges values within our AHSNs, we’ve achieved other milestones:
A member of our AHSN Diversity and Inclusion group joined the board of the NHS Innovation Accelerator (NIA). The NIA is an NHS England and NHS Improvement initiative delivered in partnership with the 15 AHSNs. It supports faster uptake and spread of high impact, evidence-based innovations by supporting exceptional individuals (‘Fellows’) with a passion for and commitment to scaling their innovations. Having a diversity and inclusion representative with this sole focus on the board means the NIA will consider diversity, inclusion and equality throughout the whole process. The last application round for NIA Fellows saw a stronger focus on health inequalities as a cross-cutting theme, innovators were invited to say how their product addressed health inequalities and a panel including patients was set up to assess these questions.
Diversity data of the innovators was also collected to assess reach and understand application trends. This helped to establish that female innovators were underrepresented in the last round of applications. The NIA are now working proactively to increase applications from female innovators in the next call.
We formed a partnership with the LGBT Foundation to launch a nationwide call for innovations that address health inequalities facing the LGBT+ community. We worked with the LGBT Foundation to collate a comprehensive compilation of evidence, which outlines the huge range of healthcare inequalities LGBT+ people face today. Following this our call for innovations resulted in 36 applications, which are currently being shortlisted.
In addition to this, our work has also caught the attention of a wide range of stakeholders and partners in the health and care system. We are currently acting in an advisory role to support some of our partners and their plans for improvement.
Our pledges are probably the most important way to show our commitment to diversity as they hold us to account, but it’s about more than that.
Our work in this area will never be ‘complete’. Championing diversity in innovation is a continuing mission. If the pandemic and public consciousness around inequality gives the Government and NHS a greater appetite to tackle this agenda, then it is more important than ever that as a Network we’re ready to take on the challenge.
I’m proud to have made this personal interest a collective mission for the AHSN Network and look forward to seeing more progress over the next year.