Almost four in five disabled staff working in the NHS believe they have equal opportunities for career progression and promotion, according to the latest Workforce Disability Equality Standard (WDES).

The WDES report also found that the number of disabled staff in senior roles in England’s health service has more than doubled over the past three years to 3.4% in 2021, from 2.8% in 2020, and 1.6% in 2019.

It also shows that more than three quarters (76.6%) of disabled staff felt that their employer had made adequate adjustments to enable them to carry out their work, an increase of 2.8 percentage points from 2020, and almost all (97.2%) of trusts now actively facilitate the voices of disabled staff to be heard, up from 85% in 2019.

The Workforce Disability Equality Standard was established as part of the NHS Long Term Plan’s aim of improving care for patients by making the NHS one of the best places to work, attracting and retaining talent and better reflecting the communities it serves.

As part of the work NHS England has been proactively engaging with staff, including the Disabled NHS Directors’ network, to increase the visibility of disabled leaders and to encourage disability declaration rates in the NHS.

Christine Rivers, Head of Workforce Disability Equality Standard (WDES) at NHS England said: “It is encouraging to see the number of disabled people in senior management roles increasing each year, and almost four in five disabled staff believe they have equal opportunities for career progression and promotion.

“We know that the NHS is at its best when it reflects the diversity of our country, at all levels, and how the NHS treats its staff has an impact on how it treats patients, so while the latest data shows promising progress in many areas over the past three years of the WDES, it also shines a light on areas where disparities between disabled and non-disabled staff continue to exist."

Still some work to be done

The number of disabled staff feeling valued for their contribution has increased over the past 12 months to 39.4%, compared to 50.7% of non-disabled staff. However, disabled staff report feeling slightly less engaged with their organisation, with an engagement score of 6.68, compared to 7.15 for non-disabled staff.

The new figures also show disabled job applicants are 1.11 times less likely to be appointed from shortlisting compared to non-disabled applicants, a continued improvement from 1.20 in 2020, and 1.18 in 2019.

This is the third WDES annual report for NHS trusts and NHS foundation trusts, and the data is measured against ten metrics that compare the working and career experiences of disabled and non-disabled staff.

The metrics include the distribution of disabled staff across the workforce pay bands, short-listing and recruitment, bullying and harassment, and whether adequate adjustments to provide additional support to disabled workers are in place.

The data for WDES is collected from 217 NHS trusts and foundation trusts in England and based on data as at 31 March 2021 when the total workforce was recorded as 1,389,246.

The findings detailed in this report will help to inform future strategic development of the WDES and the actions that will be taken in 2022.