NHS England
Printable version

Record numbers of disabled staff in senior management roles in the NHS

The number of disabled staff in senior roles in England’s health service has more than doubled over the past three years, helping the NHS better meet the needs of patients.

The NHS Workforce Disability Equality Standard report for 2021, published yesterday – during Equality, Diversity and Human Rights Week – shows the proportion of disabled staff at very senior manager level has increased to 3.4% in 2021, from 2.8% in 2020, and 1.6% in 2019.

Similarly, the proportion of Board members declaring a disability has increased from 2% in 2019 to 3.7% in 2021, matching the makeup of the wider workforce for the first time.

More than 52,000 people in the NHS workforce (3.7%) declared a disability through the NHS Electronic Staff Record, an increase of 6,870 compared to 2020.

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.

The WDES is the only example of an employer mandated standard for disabled staff in the UK.

Christine Rivers, Head of Workforce Disability Equality Standard (WDES) at NHS England yesterday said:

“It is encouraging to see the number of disabled people in senior management roles increasing each year, and almost four in five disabled staff believe they have equal opportunities for career progression and promotion.

“We know that the NHS is at its best when it reflects the diversity of our country, at all levels, and how the NHS treats its staff has an impact on how it treats patients, so while the latest data shows promising progress in many areas over the past three years of the WDES, it also shines a light on areas where disparities between disabled and non-disabled staff continue to exist.

“To deliver the ambitious improvements in care set out in our Long Term Plan, the NHS has to make the most of the talent, expertise and skill of every member of staff, and it is crucial that hospitals and other local employers make the changes needed for the NHS to become an exemplar employer for people with a disability.”

Initiatives like the WDES Innovation Fund, introduced in 2019, support NHS trusts and other NHS employing organisations who come up with innovative ways to improve the experience and retention of disabled staff, and enhance the attraction of roles in the health service.

Projects funded through the scheme include leadership development programmes at The Rotherham NHS Foundation Trust through bespoke mentoring, and developing toolkits to support colleagues with neuro diversity at North Bristol NHS Trust.

Em Wilkinson-Brice, Acting NHS Chief People Officer yesterday said:

“For our patients to get better care and outcomes, all our NHS people need to be treated fairly. The latest report shows an overall improvement in the experience of disabled colleagues working in the NHS, with almost four in five disabled staff believing they have equal opportunities for career progression and promotion. But there is always more we can do.

“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. Initiatives like the WDES Innovation Fund continue to support NHS trusts and other NHS employing organisations to improve the experience and retention of disabled staff but we will continue to work tirelessly to ensure all staff are treated in accordance with our NHS values.”

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 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 report also shows in 2020, 78.4% of disabled staff believed that they had equal opportunities for career progression or promotion, compared with 83.7% of staff overall believing trusts provide equal opportunities for career progression.

The new figures 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.

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.


  • The 2021 Workforce Disability Equality Standard can be viewed on our website.
  • 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 number of board members declaring a disability has almost doubled, from 63 in 2019 to 121 in 2021. There was a larger increase in executive board members, from 28 in 2019 to 61 in 2021.
  • Over 20% of respondents to the NHS Staff Survey have declared a disability.
  • There is a correlation between higher levels of seniority and lower levels of declaration of a disability.
  • The report uses a capital ‘D’ when referring to disabled staff, which is a conscious decision to emphasise that barriers continue to exist for people with long-term conditions. The capital ‘D’ also signifies that disabled people have a shared identity and are part of a community that continues to fight for equality.


Channel website: https://www.england.nhs.uk/

Original article link: https://www.england.nhs.uk/2022/05/record-numbers-of-disabled-staff-in-senior-management-roles-in-the-nhs/

Share this article

Latest News from
NHS England