Recognise the BME Network at BSUH NHS Trust

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The Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) Network for Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals (BSUH) NHS Trust has started this petition in order to challenge the decision by the BSUH Trust Board to cease engagement with the BME Network and remove its resources. It is the BME Network's position that the Trust's decision contravenes its legal obligations to deliver race equality and breaches a legally binding compromise agreement which protects the BME Network's resources.

The BME Network asks that the Trust Board do the following:

1. Recognise the BME Network as a legitimate and independent critical friend, as set out in the Memorandum of Understanding signed between the Trust and the BME Network in September 2011.
2. Reinstate the BME Network's resources without conditions or caveats.
3. Reconsider its approach to the delivery of race equality, working in partnership with the BME Network.

The BME Network also calls on those in authority, including, but not limited to, NHS Improvement and the Department of Health and Social Care, to ensure that the Trust Board complies with this request, in the interest of eliminating institutional racism in the NHS.

The BME Network for BSUH NHS Trust was launched in 2004 and in the years since has raised concerns both privately and publicly regarding the institutional racism that exists within the Trust. The BME Network has worked with successive Chief Executives and their teams on various programmes to address race equality in the Trust, to varying degrees of success. It is the BME Network's position that the greatest chance of success came from the Race Equality Workforce Engagement Strategy, whereby the leadership team and BME staff worked together in a top down, bottom up approach. This strategy was launched in 2014, but unfortunately fell into disarray amidst what CQC described as "a culture of disciplinary action and grievance placing any progress at significant risk".

Between 2004 and 2014, a number of Joint Race Equality Conferences were held. These were co-productions between the Trust and the BME Network and the themes and agendas were agreed between the parties. The Engagement Strategy mentioned above was launched by the Chair of the BME Network, Dr. Vivienne Lyfar-Cissé and the then Chief Executive, Matthew Kershaw, at the 2014 Joint Conference.

The race issues at BSUH NHS Trust are long-standing and this has been acknowledged many times. In 2009, the then Chief Executive, Duncan Selbie, admitted that the Trust was institutionally racist. In August 2016 the Care Quality Commission recommended that NHS Improvement should place BSUH NHS Trust into special measures, in part for its failure to deliver race equality. The Trust remains in special measures to date.

In April 2017, as a result of being placed in special measures, NHS Improvement brought in Marianne Griffiths, Chief Executive of Western Sussex Hospitals (WSH) NHS Foundation Trust and her leadership team, to lead BSUH NHS Trust. Since Ms. Griffiths' arrival, far from improving, the race issues at BSUH have become even worse.

In recent years, a number of senior BME staff, who have spoken up regarding issues of patient safety and racism, have been dismissed by BSUH NHS Trust. Two senior Black medical consultants have been dismissed under Ms. Griffiths' leadership. In June 2017, Ms. Griffiths herself took the decision to dismiss the Chair of the BME Network and Associate Director of Transformation, Dr. Vivienne Lyfar-Cissé. These cases are currently waiting to be heard by the Employment Tribunal.

Since Dr. Lyfar-Cissé's dismissal, the BME Network for BSUH NHS Trust has been led by a core group of seven members. The core group has made every effort to engage with Ms. Griffiths and her team, but this has been made extremely difficult. Ms. Griffiths does not accept that the Trust is institutionally racist and has failed to acknowledge that the BME Network, as the beneficiaries of the Race Equality Duty, should have input into any race equality initiatives. Before her dismissal, Dr Lyfar-Cissé had invited Ms. Griffiths to meet the BME Network on several occasions. Ms. Griffiths declined these invitations.

Despite being in place for over a year, Ms. Griffiths has done nothing meaningful to progress race equality. When the external company, People Opportunities, who were commissioned by the previous leadership team, presented a report on the culture of the organisation, which highlighted the racism in the Trust and the views of BME staff, Ms Griffiths and her team failed to provide a copy of the report to the BME Network despite numerous requests and instead presented a watered down version which did not even mention race equality. The report was only released when the BME Network submitted a complaint to the Information Commissioner's Office.

The BME Network has repeatedly requested that Ms. Griffiths and her team reinstate the Engagement Strategy, but Ms. Griffiths has refused to consider this idea and instead wishes to create a new action plan with the help of the Workforce Race Equality Standard team from NHS England, led by Yvonne Coghill. This is despite the race issues that are prevalent at NHS England itself. Ms. Griffiths and her team have made it very clear that they will only engage with the BME Network if it meets certain conditions and caveats, namely to support the Trust Board's ideas for delivering race equality.

Despite ongoing discussions between the core group for the BME Network and Ms. Griffiths and her team, it has not been possible to clarify the status of the BME Network's resources, agreed with previous Trust Boards, which are the subject of a legally binding compromise agreement. These resources have been in place for almost ten years and include:

1. BME Network budget of £21,000 per annum, with which the BME Network pays for e.g BME Network Development Days and other training and development events for BME Network members. The budget is to be administered by the core group members.
2. BME Network Office in St. Mary's Hall, for the sole use of the BME Network to carry out BME Network activities.
3. Protected time of a minimum of one day per week for the core group to carry out BME Network activities.
4. Protected time for BME Network members to attend three full day BME Network Development Days per year.

In late April 2018, the BME Network become aware that Ms Griffiths had arranged for a Race Equality Conference to take place on 29 May 2018. The BME Network was not consulted on, or informed about, this event. It is the BME Network's position that this is a divisive action and an abuse of power and on 1 May 2018 the BME Network circulated a statement to this effect. It has since become apparent that the person co-organising the conference with Ms. Griffiths is an individual who has a very negative history with the BME Network, to such a degree that two previous Chief Executives assured the BME Network that she would not be involved in the delivery of race equality. Ms. Griffiths' decision to give this individual the role of helping to arrange the conference makes it very clear that this event was never going to offer a positive experience for BME Network members. Since the BME Network's statement was issued it appears that the conference has been rebranded as a Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES) Conference rather than a Race Equality Conference.

The Trust Board's response to the BME Network's statement was to write to the core group to inform them that the Trust Board sees no current benefit to ongoing engagement and that the working relationship envisaged by the Memorandum of Understanding does not exist and that the BME Network's approach destroys that possibility. The BME Network has made its position clear in a letter to the Trust Board, stating that it is the Trust Board, not the BME Network, which has destroyed the possibility of engagement, by refusing to listen to the BME Network's concerns and criticising any suggestions made by the BME Network.

The BME Network wrote to the Trust Board again on 22 May 2018 in one final attempt to clarify the situation regarding the BME Network's resources detailed above and requesting a response within seven days if the resources were indeed still available. No response has been received, therefore confirming the Network's fears that these resources have indeed been removed. The BME Network is disappointed in the approach taken by the Trust Board and has no confidence in the current Trust Board to address the institutional racism that exists at BSUH NHS Trust. The BME Network will continue to support its members, in its role as an independent Network, until such time as its resources are reinstated and meaningful partnership working with the Trust re-established

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