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Part of Annual inclusion report 2021-22

Our diversity and inclusion journey continues

Current Chapter

Current chapter – Our diversity and inclusion journey continues

We're on a journey and some of the work we are doing on diversity and inclusion may take time to have the impact we intend, but we're committed to this course.

Our Board and Executive Management Team are personally committed, and we will continue engaging with colleagues to get their support to build a culture at NHS Digital, where we are all actively working to eliminate discrimination and support inclusion.

A People Plan to provide direction

Our People Plan remains the foundation for our overall ambition of making NHS Digital the best and most inclusive place to work.

Our priorities
  • being diverse and representative
  • access to effective mental health and wellbeing support
  • efficient and effective provision of workplace adjustments for disabled colleagues
  • Safe to Challenge programme
  • supporting a vibrant, connective, and collaborative staff network group community
  • embedding diversity and inclusion as an essential part of everything that we do

The plan is now in its second year of delivery.

This year we will
  • open opportunities for internal career progression through our Capacity and Capability programme, designed to fill over 700 vacancies by the end of the 2021/22 financial year
  • continue to develop our Senior Leadership Community focused on inclusive leadership
  • deliver additional hybrid team working line manager support tools which continue to have colleagues’ wellbeing at their heart
  • focus on improving line management capability
  • continue to embed our performance management approach
  • evolve our central workplace adjustments service
  • deliver our Safe to Challenge programme and help establish our Freedom to Speak Up Guardians
  • focus on making progress against our new representation targets
  • deliver our Positive Action Development programme for our most underrepresented groups
  • extend our Team NHSD wellbeing group offer

Continuing to deliver inclusion through the pandemic

Nobody could predict the impact that the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic would have on all aspects of our lives and work or how long it would last. We've monitored organisational capacity and resilience throughout 2021 and adjusted the actions we've taken accordingly.

We continue to put our people and inclusion at the heart of our decision-making and focus on supporting physical, mental and financial wellbeing. In doing so, we are mindful of the uniqueness of individuals’ personal circumstances and take a values-based approach, aiming to promote trust, empathy, empowerment and kindness among all colleagues. We've also taken the opportunity to accelerate breaking down some unhelpful and negative cultural ‘norms’.  

Examples of the support we provide include:

  • workplace adjustments for homeworking
  • financial support to facilitate time to care for family responsibilities
  • easy access to mental wellbeing resources and tools
  • training and materials on how to manage and work in inclusive teams remotely
  • regular wellbeing pulse surveys to track and monitor individual and organisation health and wellbeing

Our internal talent matters

Image of a meeting between employees
Over the last 18 months, we’ve done an incredible job helping the NHS to save and improve lives. The pandemic and our fantastic response have driven up demand and we are now being asked to deliver much more. 

We need to significantly grow skills, capacity, and capability to meet our delivery plan which presents us with a unique opportunity to do things differently as we fill these roles.

Our guiding principles for this work are to:

  • support and develop internal talent
  • put diversity and inclusion at the centre of recruitment and selection
  • create an environment to retain and attract diverse talent
  • accept this is a very different approach and bring the organisation on the journey
  • ensure that we do not slip back into doing what we have always done

Beginning in summer 2021 and running until April 2022, our Capacity and Capability programme will re-write our recruitment and selection rulebook covering everything from how and where we advertise our roles to the way we onboard successful candidates and support unsuccessful candidates.

We're implementing a new process with transparent standards that seeks to root out and challenge bias. This is supported by the most comprehensive mandatory assessor training we have ever delivered.

We're excited about the opportunities that this programme brings and will monitor the impact through to April 2022, when we aim to have embedded the new practices across all our recruitment and selection.

Delivering on our diversity and inclusion priorities

Being diverse and representative: what we've done so far

Representation rates

We agreed bold targets to increase diverse representation across the whole organisation.


We've provided all colleagues access to representation data on-demand via our intranet. Directorates can also view and track their own representation rates. This has resulted in increased business awareness of diversity and inclusion, and the business driving demand for new routes to market to address representation.

Recruitment and selection

We continued to create a pool of trained assessors that can be deployed to a range of recruitment activities. Improvements to the training and the associated selection tools provides greater quality assurance. The training provides assessors with a deeper knowledge and understanding of the inclusion impacts of fair and consistent recruitment practice.

A broader attraction strategy was developed to target underrepresented groups, identifying target networks to engage and build strategic partnerships with.

Being diverse and representative: what we're doing next

Representation rates

Our recruitment and selection processes will be tracked more closely to measure impacts on diverse representation.

We will continue to engage with underrepresented groups via recruitment fairs, targeted media and building strategic partnerships.


We will continue to update our diversity and inclusion dashboard to enable colleagues to see how we're doing against the new representation targets. We will also provide regular updates to our Board to ensure accountability.  

Recruitment and selection

Dashboards will be used to track live diversity data available within our recruitment platform, to monitor and review the diversity and inclusion impacts of the process changes. We will gather qualitative and quantitative feedback to evidence this and continuously improve.

Access to effective mental health and wellbeing support: what we've done so far

Guidance and support

We've completed the re-tender of our Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) contract, which incorporates enhanced requirements to address emerging mental wellbeing issues arising from the pandemic and our work on inclusion. We've also brought our Occupational Health (OH) provision together with EAP to take advantage of wellbeing synergies between them.

In spring 2021, we launched Team NHSD, an internal wellbeing group facilitated by a personal trainer and wellbeing expert. So far, over 250 colleagues have participated in activities ranging from lunchtime workouts to question and answer sessions and discussing healthy eating. We secured funding to re-launch Team NHSD for a further 12 months from September 2021.

Access to effective mental health and wellbeing support: what we're doing next

Guidance and support

We will continue to promote a broad range of wellbeing support options through a wellbeing matters campaign, along with evolving Team NHSD to broaden its reach and impact throughout 2021/22.

Efficient and effective provision of workplace adjustments for disabled colleagues: what we've done so far

We've ensured that all workplace adjustments are centrally recorded so that they remain effective and appropriate over time. Including general queries, the adjustment team have supported around 550 cases ranging from pre-employment support to changing needs associated with existing conditions.

The support offered includes:

  • provision of display screen equipment and software
  • interview adjustments
  • occupational health referrals and specialist assessments

Since October 2020, we've funded approximately £190,000 of adjustments.

We've provided tailored support as part of our move to the Leeds Hub and continued to adapt this as colleagues spend more time in the office. Over 100 colleagues have been supported to transition to the new Leeds building.

Our adjustments approach during recruitment has been revised to ensure that candidates can access adjustments from the point of applying, right through to onboarding.

Efficient and effective provision of workplace adjustments for disabled colleagues: what we're doing next

We will continue to review our adjustments approach, particularly in relation to our new ways of hybrid working.

Tailored support will be provided for colleagues affected by our London office move and for National Disease Registration Service (NDRS) colleagues who have joined.

We will also assess the impact of our more inclusive recruitment approach on disabled candidates.

Safe to Challenge: what we've done so far

Response to race inequality

We've revisited the events of 2020, including the death of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter movement and subsequent reaction in the UK, alongside the impact of coronavirus on underrepresented groups – particularly those from a black, Asian and minority ethnic background – that brought inclusion and race inequality issues to the fore.

We ran 2 more all colleague inclusion events with our partners Pearn Kandola. In the second event, we asked whether we are ‘still standing by’ and gave colleagues tools and techniques to become active bystanders.

We delivered an Inclusive Leadership pilot for our Executive Management Team (EMT) and Senior Leadership Community, in response to the insights gained from our collaborative work with Pearn Kandola and our EMBRACE network.

Raising concerns

We expanded the ambitions of our Safe to Challenge programme by recruiting and appointing 5 Freedom to Speak Up Guardians.  

We've appointed subject matter experts from across the business to triage concerns raised through our new platform, launched in October 2021.

For the first time in several years, we've surveyed our colleagues on a range of inclusion topics, in particular bullying, harassment and physical safety.

Safe to Challenge: what we're doing next

Response to race inequality

We will use the materials from the ‘standing by’ event to produce and roll-out a bitesize upskilling session that can be delivered in team meetings.

Raising concerns

Following the formal launch of our Safe to Challenge initiative in October 2021, which includes activating our 5 Freedom to Speak Up Guardians, we will continue on an education journey including working with colleagues across the business to simplify the entry points for raising concern and updating our intranet pages for easier access and navigation to support.

We will also ensure there are reportable Service Level Agreements (SLAs) that we can be held to account for in terms of response, experience and handling of concerns raised.

We will review and analyse our inclusion and wellbeing pulse survey results to identify the actions we need to take to ensure everyone feels safe in the workplace. We will launch a complete engagement survey in early 2022 aligned to the national NHS survey.

Supporting a vibrant, connective, and collaborative staff network group community: what we've done so far

Our staff networks have gone from strength to strength over the last year and adopted a collaborative and intersectional approach. They have each maintained a varied and engaging programme of awareness events, including a series of inspirational guest speakers.

Recruited several new chairs, deputies and committee members which has seen many of our networks reinvigorated. We thanked our outgoing chairs with the Going the Extra Mile (GEM) awards to recognise their contributions.

Supporting a vibrant, connective, and collaborative staff network group community: what we're doing next

We will continue to work in partnership with our staff networks on our growing inclusion agenda and we will also focus on refining a shared set of priorities for the next 12 months, along with launching a refreshed ‘People Group’ to act as a shadow board.

Highlights from our staff networks

Open the expanders below to find out about the highlights from our staff networks:


Our EMBRACE Network has continued to drive open and challenging conversations and action on racism within NHS Digital.

They've worked closely with HR and our inclusion partners Pearn Kandola to show colleagues how to be active bystanders and constructively challenge racist and non-inclusive behaviours.

To support colleagues from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds to progress their careers, EMBRACE have fostered a relationship with Fujitsu to run peer coaching sessions.

As they do every year, EMBRACE are helping us to celebrate Black History Month with an exciting and engaging programme of events.

Ability Network

The network’s first Chair, Ellen Doyle, stepped down after 4 years of stewardship that oversaw both membership growth and a significant expansion of the support that the Network offers to both its members and to the organisation’s business areas. Following an open selection, Lisa Swain was appointed Chair last June.  

Like everyone else, lockdown hit the Ability Network members hard, if not the hardest. This saw a significant increase in the support needed in areas like workplace adjustments, where the network broke new ground in partnership with our central workplace adjustments team by collecting data about existing adjustments in one central place to support both individual needs and business planning. This was such a success that the network helped another NHS organisation implement their methods.

In May, the network celebrated Neurodiversity Awareness Week with guest speakers Dr Tony Lloyd, CEO of ADHD Foundation, and Henry Shelford of ADHD UK. They worked collaboratively with other staff networks to reflect intersectionality in the disability arena.

Women's Network

The Women's Network have gone from strength to strength this year, with a strong focus on supporting the health and wellbeing of its members – a survey of all members confirmed this was an area they were keen for the network to continue focusing on.

This included:

  • partnering with HR colleagues to design and launch a new Menopause Toolkit to help raise awareness and understanding of the impact menopause can have in the workplace and how to support workplace adjustments
  • supporting the development of a new Domestic Abuse Policy 
  • helping NHS Digital to secure Endometriosis Friendly Employer status

Continuing their wellbeing focus, their events schedule included registered Nutritional Therapist Jackie Lynch talking about nutrition for a happy and healthy menopause, and GP and NHS Menopause Specialist Dr Clare Spencer discussing menopause in the workplace.

Gender equality has also been a focus this year with events about the gender pay gap in technology and the Gender Equality Network’s ‘F’ factor event featuring inspiring women sharing their authentic experiences in the tech world.

Multi-faith Network

Working in partnership with our estates team, the Multi-faith Network raised awareness of our new quiet spaces and reflection room in the Leeds Hub at Wellington Place by creating video content and user guidance.  

They raised awareness with an event to share the history and context of the Holocaust and the importance of Holocaust Memorial Day. Throughout the year the network has continued to share information and raise awareness of different beliefs, including an event discussing Humanism as a belief system and its history and context.

Family and Carers Network

The Family and Carers Network is becoming more established with the expansion of its committee with roles filled on a ‘job share’ basis. Promoting job sharing and flexible working at all levels and across all directorates is a top priority for the network.

They have started an awareness events series to showcase job sharing successes and promote the benefits of different working patterns for individuals and the business.

LGBTQ+ and Allies Network

This year the network expanded its committee with the addition of Adam Carruthers, an Academy Representative focusing on bringing the voices of early career colleagues into the fold. 

The biggest success of the year came during NHS Virtual Pride when colleagues from NHS Digital, NatCen and the National LGBT Health Advisor for the NHS presented the results from the Health Survey for England - LGB Health Report to all NHS organisations.

Continuing the theme of supporting the health and care sector, the network supported user research activities in the Cancer Screening Programme. They also provided trans awareness training to the NHS login citizen-facing processes for the identity verification staff and worked with the NHS login Delivery Team to implement initial improvements to the user journey for trans people.

The LGBTQ+ and Allies Network ran a series of events this year that included numerous guest speakers: Dr Justin Bengry, Director of the Centre for Queer History at Goldsmiths, University of London gave a talk about ‘The Untold History of the Pink Pound’ during LGBT+ History month:

  • Dr Michael Brady, National Advisor for LGBT Health at NHS England, was invited to speak for Zero Discrimination Day
  • social scientist Dr Marc Svensson held a talk on International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia
  • network Chair, Daniel Gleghorn, shared his experiences of sexuality and religion in our Uncomfortable Conversations series

The network made the most impact by championing intersectionality across all protected characteristics. They put together joint events with the Ability Network, EMBRACE and the Women's Network, and more recently the Family and Carers Network.  

Embedding diversity and inclusion as an essential part of everything that we do

What we've done so far

During 2020 our ‘what we do matters’ campaign evolved to encompass ‘your wellbeing matters’, and finally the inception of ‘inclusion matters’. The inclusion matters campaign was formally launched with a new visual identity to ensure that our messages about diversity and inclusion stand out within our other communications and activities.  

What we're doing next

We will continue to develop the campaign to highlight the positive steps we are taking towards becoming a truly inclusive place to work.

Inclusion survey 2021

This year we took steps to find out more about colleague experiences in relation to bullying, harassment and discrimination. Taking questions used in the NHS Workforce Race Equality Standard and Workforce Disability Equality Standard, we invited colleagues to complete an Inclusion Survey. A total of 1,000 colleagues completed the survey, which is a response rate comparable with similar internal surveys. 

Many of the issues raised by the survey have been brought to the fore by our staff networks, so the findings will enable us to measure the impact of the preventative measures we are putting in place. In particular, the Safe to Challenge programme, supported by our Freedom to Speak Up Guardians, will play a critical role in helping colleagues to raise concerns and have them addressed.

Unfortunately, from the results, it's clear that black, Asian and minority ethnic and disabled colleagues feel their voices are less heard and experience fewer positive inclusion outcomes. This is not acceptable, and we will continue to focus our energy on working hard to change this.

Open the expanders below to find out about the headline findings:


We invited respondents to complete a protected characteristics declaration for comparison purposes against the Electronic Staff Record (ESR), our core employee records data.  

11% of survey respondents identified as disabled as opposed to 5% of colleagues on ESR. Similarly, 9% identified as LGBTQ+ on the survey, compared to 4% on ESR.

While it isn’t untypical across organisations for survey declarations to be higher, we will continue to encourage colleagues to feel comfortable sharing their diversity data to enable our baseline to be more accurate.

Wellbeing at work

In response to the question ‘Over the last three months have you worked despite not feeling well enough?’, disabled colleagues were more like to say yes (71%) than those who are non-disabled (45%).

9% of all respondents felt pressure from their manager to attend work when not well - this was lower for disabled colleagues (6%) but higher for those from black, Asian and minority ethnic groups (11%).

The results report that pressure to work while unwell was higher from colleagues than from managers: 25% of disabled colleagues felt this compared with 13% of those non-disabled, and 19% of black, Asian and minority ethnic groups, compared with 14% white. 17% of men compared with 14% of women felt pressure from colleagues to work while unwell.

Compared to all respondents (91%), self-pressure to come to work when unwell ranged from 71% for black, Asian and minority ethnic colleagues, to 94% for disabled colleagues.

Career development

There were significant differences between groups responding positively to the question ‘Do you believe NHS Digital acts fairly with regard to career progression?’. Ranging from all respondents (60%) to women (53%), disabled colleagues (35%) and black, Asian and minority ethnic groups (33%).

Harassment, bullying and discrimination

We asked questions to understand how many colleagues had experienced harassment, bullying and discrimination and on what frequency.

We found that:

  • 3% was experienced from service users, with 22 people saying 1 or 2 occasions compared to 13% experienced from colleagues
  • black, Asian and minority ethnic and disabled colleagues reported higher rates, 17% and 26%, respectively
  • around a third of women, black, Asian and minority ethnic and disabled colleagues reported it compared with a quarter of men, white and non-disabled
  • sex, age, race, and disability were the most common types of discrimination; over a third of respondents had experienced more than one type of discrimination
  • there were 5 reports of physical violence at work (3 by managers, 2 by colleagues, 1 by a service user), which we take very seriously and are investigating further with planned support from the Guardians 

Last edited: 17 February 2022 4:26 pm