The number of disabled people at board level in the NHS has almost doubled since 2019 and the chances of shortlisted disabled staff being appointed into roles has also improved, according to the latest Workforce Disability Equality Standard (WDES).

The WDES report also found that almost four in five disabled staff working in the NHS believe they have equal opportunities for career progression and promotion.

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.

NHS England and NHS Improvement have published their 2021 annual Workforce Disability Equality Standard (WDES) Report.
This is the third WDES annual report and covers NHS trusts and NHS foundation trusts, which measures data against ten metrics that analyses the experiences of disabled and non-disabled staff working in the NHS.

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.

Paul Deemer, head of diversity and inclusion at NHS Employers, part of the NHS Confederation. said, “The national WDES report shows that employers are generally moving in the right direction in terms of proactively addressing the needs and requirements of their disabled staff.


“However, there are clearly areas where more needs to be done, including in attracting more disabled people into the NHS and ensuring they feel able to have open conversations with their managers and within their organisation about their disability.

“Another barrier discouraging disabled people from applying to work in the NHS is the narrow definition and categorisation used in both recruitment through NHS Jobs and the NHS Electronic Staff Record system. The definitions listed are not comprehensive and therefore do not enable disabled people to select the appropriate disability on the system, this can prevent people from declaring their disability.
“These national systems need to be modified so that current and future disabled employees can fully define themselves at work, and employers can better understand how to meet their needs.”