Tackling health inequalities for Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, by Steve Russell

Posted on: Thursday 29 Oct 2020

From Steve Russell, our Chief Executive

Those who know me have often heard me say that what we put up with, we promote.  So does that mean racism?

I talk through personal, painful experience of the impact on racism on me, my family and colleagues. I write as someone who has had the uncomfortable feelings of being unwanted, unwelcome and not understanding why. These feelings I still recall vividly.

My dad being asked on a bus where he ‘got me from’, and being told in school that I should get back in my banana boat and go back to where I came from still feel new.

Being asked if I’m the ‘on-call doctor’ because there’s an automatic assumption my White colleagues are in the position of authority.  Despite my passion and determination to contribute, I often hear ‘Oh you’re Steve Russell’! Racism well and truly remains in society as we know it.

I have far too often in the past been the only BAME person at the decision-making table and now as CEO at Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust, and a senior leader for West Yorkshire and Harrogate Health and Care Partnership (WY&H HCP), I am in a position to influence this.  With the support of other colleagues I can ground us in the experience of colleagues and I can be part of a positive process that actually changes people’s lives.

We are accelerating action; having introduced the WY&H HCP BAME Fellowship Programme, which gives BAME colleagues the opportunity to be leaders and have an equal chance – all with the influence and support of the WY&H HCP BAME Network.

In my career, two people took chances on me and without their belief I am sure I wouldn’t be where I am. It is my responsibility to ‘pay this forward’ and do the same for the next generation of leaders, but it takes all of us to do this to make a real difference.

We published the WY&H HCP Review Report on Thursday 22 October: Tackling health inequalities for Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities and colleagues and know that understanding impact, reducing inequalities, supporting recovery is crucial.  Our leadership will be reflective of our communities, where people have a voice at the decision-making table, where all are treated fairly. So our BAME colleagues can see people who look like us, who try to inspire and feel they belong and have a place.  There’s no shortage of talent and we shouldn’t talk about needing a business case for diversity – it’s a moral case.

Working with HR colleagues, we are ensuring there is BAME representation on all senior recruitment processes and the way in which we recruit and select our workforce has been transformed.  We’re determined to change the way we work, so our BAME colleagues don’t fight alone. We have developed bespoke training relating to Black Lives Matter and also White Privilege. It is not enough to say ‘I am not racist’. We need to fully support and engage with the anti-racism movement, and to listen to people’s experiences to learn.

We are having the conversations with our staff, setting out a new direction with firm confidence and clear determined action.  Each of us as individuals takes this responsibility.

We have to be honest with ourselves: Black, Asian and minority ethnic people aren’t treated equally, and without ally-ship, and thinking about equality and diversity in everything we do, there will be another moment when we become outraged at an injustice because we haven’t made enough change.

The current virus presents disparities and different risks to our communities and the report sets out what we are going to do to address inequalities.   It describes inclusive leadership standards which leaders pledge to personally uphold within their organisations, starting with recruitment and selection.  The report recommendations include the development of independent discrimination panels with BAME representation to review all cases of racial discrimination in disciplinary and complaints cases.

Across WY&H HCP, health and care leaders are united with a commitment to stamp out racism, together.

The stark realities of the inequalities that exist ignite a call for the end to racism and injustice. But we are part of the solution.

I’m proud to be part of the WY&H HCP, where Black Lives Matter. 


Steve Russell is Chief Executive for Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust. He is also a leader within West Yorkshire and Harrogate Health and Care Partnership. Steve was recently recognised as one of the most influential Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) leaders in healthcare in the first Health Service Journal (HSJ) BAME power list.

Steve is also on the BAME taskforce across neighbouring Humber, Coast and Vale Health and Care Partnership of which Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust is also a member. Steve has been spear-heading that work across the Partnership.