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By Ali Jan Haider, Chair of NHS West Yorkshire Integrated Care Board Race Equality Network and Director of integrated health and care for Bradford District and Craven Health and Care Partnership

Don’t join the NHS – why would you want to go there?

The above words were gently whispered to me by a previous manager as I was writing my acceptance letter to start a role in the NHS, namely with four primary care trusts across Bradford District and Craven. The remark, alongside a few other sweeteners was, I like to think, an attempt to keep me in the organisation and say no to a role in the NHS. It did make me feel valued that my manager did not want me to leave. However, the time was right, and I did go there.

I would not swap my twenty-two years plus in the NHS for anything. It has been a memorable journey where I have learned more than I could ever have imagined and had the privilege to influence well-being outcomes for people, in countless positive and innovative ways. It has been a journey not without setbacks or struggles. It is a truism that leading on race equality accelerates the grey (or the no) hair phenomena!

Fortunately, I was working in a culture where we had the resilience and determination to persevere, using data and lived experience to edge forward slowly and gallop ahead when appropriate.  It was a journey where inertia only inspired us to become stronger and more courageous in our determination to succeed. It is a journey that many will take, there will be achievements, setbacks and at times a feeling that little has really changed. So, ‘why would you want to go there’?

My first role in the NHS was to lead on ‘equality and diversity’. The work the team and I did on ‘delivering race equality in mental health’, promoting career opportunities in social care and health (POSH), working with a performing arts company (Cragrats) to deliver anti-racist training, and establishing Enable 2 to deliver translation services (just to cite a few examples) was trailblazing. I guess if I’d not gone there, I’d have missed the opportunities to make such positive, indelible blows for equality and diversity.

I was honoured to work with so many committed colleagues locally, regionally and nationally. This included at the time, Sir Nigel Crisp and his team. I proudly shared what we were doing in Bradford so that our great work could inspire and be adopted by others across the country.

My career and my work blossomed in the NHS. I was privileged to lead as director of commissioning in the areas of primary medical care, mental health and wellbeing, Living Well, community partnerships, special educational needs and disability (SEND) children’s commissioning and continuing health care. I interlinked with our acute hospitals to explore how we could continue to increase the effectiveness of our services for our diverse population. I lived and breathed the NHS.

Undeniably, I could not be where I am today without some amazing colleagues placing their trust and confidence in me and offering me the direction and support when I needed it most. The memories of the great leaders who were there for me will live on.

I leave the NHS in the middle of March this year. I end my job with mixed feelings. I will miss many colleagues who became part of my ‘work family’ and who I enjoyed great times with, shared tough stubborn challenges with, and tried to solve the world’s problems with all at once.

Fate, I feel has dealt me an interesting hand before the NHS and I part company. The BRAP report ‘Too Hot to Handle,’ shines the light on present day racism in the NHS and there are several observations identical to those I was confronting 22 plus years ago. Wow, has nothing really changed? Why indeed did I come here?

I can say with a clear conscience that so much good work has happened in the NHS to tackle racism head on and if this blog was a thesis, I would share lots with you. However, despite all the achievements, awards and accolades we cannot, and I know we will not, take our eye off the racism ball that continues to bounce around causing pain, perpetuating discrimination, and inflicting suffering for many. We must guard against going in reverse.

I am confident that NHS West Yorkshire Integrated Care Board will take this report seriously and ensure that we continue to root out racism so that no one – irrespective of their heritage and ethnicity – is disadvantaged when accessing services, is treated unfavourably in applying for jobs, or remains stuck in their role without an opportunity for progression when they are ready to do so.

I write this blog at a time when my own faith in international human rights is at an all-time low, a time when the old adage ‘for injustice to prevail it is sufficient that good people do nothing’ reverberates in my heart and soul. I am seeing injustice my eyes wish I did not see, and I hear of injustice my ears wish I didn’t hear.

One wish I do have for the NHS is for it to be a place where all are equal, and some are not more equal than others. I believe that with continued commitment, the confidence to speak out, and with strong accountability we can get there.

The journey of equality and fairness can be littered with unforeseen obstacles – ‘why indeed would you want to go there’?

In conclusion, I would go there again and again and again as, despite all the setbacks, struggles, grey hairs and moments of despair, we have made and continue to make a crucial difference to improve the lives and wellbeing of our diverse population.

Thank you for reading and have a good weekend.

View more inequalities blogs below or on our Reducing Inequalities Alliance webpage. To write a blog about inequalities work you’re involved in, please email ria@bradford.nhs.uk

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