3 minutes with Sunitha Narayan

Equality, diversity and inclusion should be a ‘golden thread’ running through the fabric of the NHS , says Southampton-based physio Sunitha Narayan.


Why does equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) at work matter? 

I think we should provide equal opportunities for everyone and treat all our colleagues and patients with dignity and respect. The first principle of the NHS Constitution defines the importance of equality, diversity and inclusion in all aspects of what we do. And the Health and Care Professions Council standards of conduct, performance and ethics require us as physiotherapists to challenge discrimination and promote equal opportunities. We are in a unique position to understand inequalities and their impact due to the nature of the work we do. 

What drew you to the post as head of EDI at your NHS trust?

I volunteered as secretary to the trust’s black and minority ethnic network for over three years and as an interpreter for patients. That gave me the chance to understand the challenges faced by my colleagues and patients from ethnic minority groups. Around a year back I got a secondment, working as the trust lead for EDI. I enjoyed it and when the opportunity came for a more permanent role I embraced it. 

What does an EDI lead do and does every trust have one?

Most NHS organisations have an equality and diversity lead. At our trust we believe that to truly reflect our trust values – patients first, working together, always improving – EDI must be the golden thread running through the fabric of the organisation. My role involves setting the strategy for EDI delivery in the organisation.  

Is the work rewarding? 

Yes, it is. When I first started it seemed daunting but once you break it down into manageable chunks it’s possible to make progress. The first equality impact assessment I carried out was for the interpreter policy and the original version only focused on its benefit from an ethnicity aspect. But I was able to highlight the positive and negative impact on other protected characteristics – the grounds upon which discrimination is unlawful – and what we should do to reduce the risks. The team that wrote the policy then understood better the impact of their work. More recently, I was involved in the root-cause analysis of a racial discrimination incident on a ward. We have a strategy of doing this to evaluate incidents, identify preventable causes, scrutinise our response and improve practices. It was a difficult situation, but as a result we have implemented changes across the trust to challenge discriminatory behaviour. 

Do you also try to improve access and facilities for patients?

I work closely with our long-term illness and disability network. We have a sensory-loss working group involved in a project looking at support for individuals with hearing and visual loss. Our trust is one of the few that’s shortly going to have a ‘Changing Places’ toilet – a welcome development for service users. 

What else do you do?

Being head of EDI is my main job but I still work one day a week as a clinical neuromuscular coordinator and specialist physiotherapist. 

What changes would you like to see?

Honest conversations. I would like individuals to appreciate the true benefits of a diverse workforce and actively recruit diverse teams across all protected characteristics. 

Can you get support in your role?

Yes. These roles can be incredibly isolating so I work closely with colleagues around the region doing similar work. We share good practice, provide information and support each other. fl


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