The 2021 census confirmed it; England and Wales are now more diverse than ever, and most of us celebrate that fact.
This increase in diversity, while overwhelmingly positive, isn’t without its challenges. A more diverse population requires more diverse public services, which has inspired many a workplace policy update to reflect the need for inclusion, diversity and equality.
Diversity is tricky to define and has different implications for different sectors. For example, what is diversity in health and social care and why does it matter?
This guide pulls together relevant guidance, research and policy to answer those questions. If you work in health or social care, you’ll learn more about diversity and how it relates to your role, plus get a few ideas on what you can do to promote it.
The Definition of Diversity
Definitions of diversity vary as different workplaces or institutions interpret the concept differently. But almost all definitions share three common principles:
- Everyone’s different
- Differences should be recognised
- Differences should be celebrated
These are great ideals to aspire to but a little difficult to apply in practical workplace policy. That’s why this article will work with a slightly narrower definition focusing on diversity concerning patient care and outcomes.
It’s not an exhaustive list, but diversity in health and social care means recognising and respecting differences in:
- Gender identity
- Socioeconomic background
It’s essential for practitioners and policymakers to recognise these patient differences as they can directly impact the quality of care.
Why Diversity in Health and Social Care Matters
Everyone deserves access to decent medical care without fear of discrimination. This is a universal fact and fundamental to health services.
However, despite years of progress, certain groups of people struggle to get the care they deserve or experience poorer patient outcomes.
For example, evidence shows clear differences in care for women from ethnic minorities. One review from the NHS Race & Health Observatory, titled ‘Ethnic Inequalities in Healthcare’ states that:
“Ethnic inequalities in access to, experiences of, and outcomes of healthcare are longstanding problems in the NHS.”
The review gives several reasons for this disparity in care, including:
- Discriminatory treatment by staff
- Insufficient translation services
- Patients avoiding care for fear of racist treatment
- A lack of quality research or data looking specifically at ethnic patients
Of course, this is not a universal issue, but it is prevalent enough to cause notably worse outcomes in several areas, with maternal health being one of the most severe. In the UK, black women are four times more likely to die during childbirth than white women.
It is just one area of health care and one example of discrimination in health. Other evidence has found that 70% of trans and trans-gender individuals have experienced transphobia from their primary caregivers. A report from the charity Stonewall found that one in four LGBT individuals have witnessed a healthcare professional make discriminatory remarks because of a patient’s sexuality.
Health and social care professionals must overcome these issues and ensure everyone can access the services they need. Embracing diversity and the closely linked concepts of equality and inclusion are essential to achieve this.
Diversity and Equality
Equality is often misunderstood, with some dismissing it as ‘treating everyone the same.’ As a healthcare professional, you likely already know this interpretation is wrong and would inevitably leave some people much worse off. Consider what you’d do to help an unconscious patient with an arterial wound compared to someone with a sprained ankle.
While blunt, this scenario hopefully illustrates the principles of equality and how they interact with diversity. You must recognise a patient’s background and situation and treat them accordingly.
However, good healthcare professionals consider more than just the medical needs when treating patients. It is essential to look at the broader context to determine the best approach and treatment options.
Some people need to be treated with greater sensitivity and others might require translating services – the differences are endless. But no two patients are exactly alike and what works for some won’t necessarily work for others.
Suppose the principles of equality are about giving everyone equally successful patient outcomes. In that case, inclusion is working to ensure they’re all in a position to receive treatment.
Individuals of all backgrounds should feel that health and social care facilities are open and welcoming to them. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. While the widespread access to quality, accessible health care in the UK should rightly be applauded, some patients live in isolated areas, far from healthcare facilities. Economic conditions also affect access to care despite the free NHS services.
Then there are issues of race, sexuality or gender identity. As outlined above, a shocking number of people from minority groups feel socially excluded from healthcare services or fear discrimination from practitioners.
To overcome social exclusion or other barriers to care, all practitioners should be aware of the government’s Inclusion Health strategy. It outlines how professionals can support people from commonly excluded groups and make sure they get access to the health and care services they need.
The guidance goes much deeper, but the general principles you should follow include:
- Show kindness, empathy and understanding in all patient interactions
- Consider how you communicate with your patients and ensure they can make informed decisions regarding their health
How to Promote Diversity in Health and Social Care
Following the government’s Inclusion Health guidance is a good start. Still, this advice is focused on improving services for the patient. This approach isn’t wrong – the patient is obviously the focus in health and social care – but you also need to consider how you’re promoting diversity among your colleagues.
Any health or care workforce should reflect the community they serve. Diversity amongst staff helps improve equality and inclusion, which improves outcomes for a more comprehensive number of patients. (Equality and diversity in workplaces have also been shown to improve performance.)
Inclusive recruitment policies are essential to encourage diversity in your staff. It might even be beneficial to specifically target under-represented groups in recruitment drives.
It’s vital to tackle discrimination experienced by patients and staff within your organisation. Establish clear policies, communicate them to your teams, and ensure you follow them. Your stakeholders will doubt any commitment to workplace diversity unless it goes beyond words on a page.
It’s not a valid reason, but ignorance is often an underlying cause for discrimination or exclusion in health care. Staff might not be aware of their biases or understand how equality and inclusion should be applied in the workplace.
Investing in training also goes a long way in demonstrating your commitment to diversity. It helps staff appreciate and engage with relevant policies or initiatives.
If your staff haven’t completed formal diversity training before or need a refresher, an awareness-level course could be right for them. Our online Diversity Awareness training covers the fundamentals your staff need to know and helps promote inclusivity in the workplace. The course content covers definitions of diversity and equality and the benefits they can bring to a workplace. It also outlines how to overcome discrimination and communication barriers, which are critical to inclusive health care.