Interview Series: Sam Shah, Digital Health Tech Advisor

In our latest interview series, Angela Sharda speaks to Sam Shah, NHS Clinician and former Director of Digital Development at NHSX, about the importance of improving diversity, inclusion and equality within the NHS.

What are the biggest challenges that the BAME workforce in the NHS face?

We need others to recognise that BAME is a label and an umbrella term. It actually refers to different people in the workforce who each face their own challenges with some people suffering extreme hardships.

The biggest issues in the tech sector within the NHS are around inclusion, diversity and equality. This is much more than race, it’s about ensuring we have the most diverse range of people involved in making decisions to get the best outcomes.

How can the NHS address these problems?

The people that are designing, delivering and developing services across the health system and care system must reflect the needs of the public. The people that use the NHS are a diverse set of individuals with a varied set of needs. We need to build diverse teams in the NHS and we need to be more inclusive in decision making and by doing that we will achieve better outcomes.

People from an ethnic minority background need to be given access to senior roles but this doesn’t always happen in the NHS. If people at the top level really want to implement change within the NHS, they can, they have the power to do this.

During this global pandemic, a new hospital was built in two weeks in order to provide care for the public. If we can do everything else within the NHS then why is diversity, equality and inclusion still an issue? Personally, I think it is a cultural issue that is deeply entrenched in the system.

Is enough being done in the health service to address these issues?

Enough is not being done to tackle the issue. There are great groups, such as The Shuri Network that do an amazing job and the people behind it work so hard to do their best. However, this alone is not enough to change the bigger problem within the health service.

There needs to be change from the top, it isn’t enough to be saying the right things and having the right photograph taken – we need to see structure change. I want to see a fairer process in recruitment mechanisms and a better way to nurture talent for the workforce to access roles.

We have seen a small number of people who have broken through the system but it shouldn’t be like that, the workforce shouldn’t be grateful for getting top level roles at a leadership level; it should be based on talent, skill and equal opportunity. We need to ensure that diverse candidates need to be taken from a diverse pool in the first instance.

What advice would you give people that want to join in with the conversation about inclusion, equality and diversity?

There are some great people who believe in diversity and inclusion in the workplace and I would say – get involved. Reach out to senior leaders, it can be scary but take advice where you can and learn how you can make a difference.

I would also advise people to let others into their life, so that can break down barriers and they can improve relationships.  Diversity and inclusion within the health service is everyone’s business, irrespective of who you are but it can be difficult to empthasise if you have never experienced discrimination or inequalities. It’s important to not be dismissive and be open to have a conversation.

Lastly, don’t give up.