Chief Executive of the Brighton and Sussex University Healthcare Trust (BSUH), Marianne Griffiths, has refused to restore recognition to an active NHS Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) staff network that has more than 300 members. The work of the network has never been more important than during the pandemic which affects BME staff and patients more than others.
Councillors, campaigning groups and trade unionists from across Brighton and Hove and beyond have signed an open letter urging Ms Griffiths to restore recognition to the staff BME Network and to address long-standing issues of structural discrimination and institutional racism in the hospital trust.
Between 2004 and 2017 the network had been operating effectively in the Trust with more than 500 members until Ms Griffiths took over. After losing an Employment Tribunal claim for racial discrimination in 2007 the then CEO of the Trust agreed to work in partnership with the BME Network to improve race relations.
Together, the Trust and the network developed a Race Equality Engagement Strategy which was being implemented at the time of Ms Griffiths’ appointment. She made it clear that if it were to continue, the BME Network would have to be subject to her requirements which threatened the independence of the network.
Since Ms Griffiths took up her appointment in April 2017, three senior BME colleagues who were instrumental in providing leadership to the network have been dismissed and several employment tribunal cases are pending with one claim subject to an appeal.
The Network informed Ms Griffiths they found the dismissals unacceptable and the Trust severed all links and joint working, withdrawing formal recognition of the network.
In response to the BME network’s letter, Ms Griffiths wrote earlier this week: “When the new Board took responsibility for the Trust in 2017, it began to address multiple longstanding cultural issues, including race equality. The Trust had been failing and a new approach was required to many issues.
“The BME Network had an opportunity to engage with shaping the approach to race alongside the Trust’s leadership and the national WRES team. The Network’s stance was to offer engagement only on its terms, being an insistence that the Board accept the Network’s pre-existing approach. The Network publicly derided the Board and refused to accept its responsibility to set the approach. Therefore, the chance for the Network’s leadership to engage was lost although its members were invited to engage through the channels offered to all staff…
“It is unrealistic to expect the Board to undermine the hard work of others over the last two years, reinstate an obsolete agreement and embark on agreeing a new strategy with you… the Board will not agree to step back two years and adopt the points made in your letter.”
The BME network said that the WRES is open to all staff but the BME network is a bespoke network for BME staff only, giving them a unique voice. In their response to Ms Griffiths letter above, they wrote: “You will be well aware that the Chief People Officer of the NHS, Prerana Issar, has set a challenge for every NHS organisation to have a BME staff Network in place and for every Network to be ‘driving, thriving and influencing with the help of real support from their organisation.’
Ms Griffiths is seeking to revive the network in Western Sussex Hospitals (WSH) but is denying recognition to the BME network at the BSUH Trust in Brighton and Hove.
Madeleine Dickens, of Sussex Defend NHS, said: “Sussex Defend the NHS condemns the treatment to which the BME Network of the Brighton and Sussex University Hospital Trust and black and minority ethnic members of staff have been subjected by the Chief Executive Marianne Griffiths and senior Trust management. We stand together with the BME Network in all its demands, including for the Network to be reinstated with immediate effect. The treatment of the network is symptomatic of racial discrimination and institutionalised racism across the NHS, which has to be urgently acknowledged and addressed by Ms Griffiths and her management team.”
An edited version of this article was published by Brighton and Hove News.