Robert Goddard, Oral & Maxillo-facial Surgeon at Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and Northern Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Foundation Trust, was the joint winner of the Compassionate and Inclusive Leader – Initiative award at The National BAME Health & Care Awards 2021. The annual awards programme shines a light on the contributions BAME healthcare workers make to the NHS.
Here Goddard speaks about his role and why the public needs to know more about the sacrifices of BAME NHS workers.
Why is being compassionate so important in your sector?
I have been working in the NHS for quite a long time. As a Black person being strong-willed, determined, and forceful can be mistaken for lacking compassion. For this reason, I am delighted to be acknowledged by my peers and by the judging panel as one who shows compassion. I have always strived to treat everyone I meet equally, with respect, and free from discrimination.
Since winning the award, BAME colleagues have congratulated me and have stated how great it was for one of them to be acknowledged for services within the NHS and specifically from within this Trust. The greatest thing about winning the award has been receiving positive feedback from BAME colleagues, as well as the opportunities it has since afforded me to have greater leadership roles in my local and national communities.
Do non-BAME healthcare leaders have a responsibility to be allies?
The fight for equality, diversity, and inclusion has been going on for a long time and continues to this day. As a minority, BAME people have important contributions to make in this struggle. However, the fact remains that BAME people are in the minority, which means that the ability to affect change is limited unless we have greater support from the non-BAME majority.
The more powerful and influential allies in this fight are the greater and quicker real change in equality, diversity, and inclusion, which is for the benefit of everyone.
I would encourage allies to take up the key challenge of educating the unenlightened to abandon their prejudices. I do not believe that prejudices locked in the heart or the mind are harmless. While these thoughts exist, they invariably result in overt or unconscious covert discriminatory behaviour with devastating effects.
What work have you been pursuing to support underrepresented groups in healthcare?
I have been a member of the HUTH BAME Network. In this position, I have contributed by suggesting a number of initiatives to aid the BAME community within the hospital. I have recommended that the trust support BAME members improve their public speaking skills by encouraging paid enrolment in non-profit organisation Toastmasters. I believe that this public speaking skill will help to level the playing field when it comes to recruitment in job interviews, application for promotion, and carrying out leadership roles such as chairing meetings.
I have also suggested that BAME staff be included on recruitment panels within the trust and that there should be an element of protected time in their job plans to carry out this role. We have managed to get an agreement from the trust by working with the network, and a pilot scheme will soon be commenced. I have also suggested programmes in education, mentoring, and coaching to specifically help BAME staff. These ideas have been taken on board, and it is hoped that some of these will come to fruition over the next year.
I also suggested that we encourage the leaders in our organisation to gather and analyse metrics to move toward a more representative board of directors. This has led to the recruitment of a BAME non-executive director and the trust to organise bursaries for BAME staff to engage in postgraduate leadership and business management courses. With some input from me, the network also identified the need for a modified COVID-19 Risk Assessment Form to help make sure that BAME staff were not unduly being put at risk relative to their non-BAME counterparts.
This year, I also founded the Touched By COVID campaign. This came about when I recognised that people were being affected differently by the virus. In the early days, BAME staff and patients were disproportionately affected in terms of mortality, morbidity, and the economic effects of the pandemic. The campaign was my attempt at asking people to remember all those affected in many different ways by the virus. I asked that people tell stories of their life experiences and talk about them so that the art of communication and human connection is not lost. I believe that raising the population’s consciousness by memories and storytelling would focus minds and hearts on what they were fighting the pandemic for.
What did winning the award mean to you, and what greater purpose do you think it can serve?
It has definitely inspired BAME staff within my organisation, as shown by the feedback I have received. As the award was widely shared on social media platforms, I have become a minor celebrity. I have been invited to more public speaker events on medical and leadership topics. My professional body has even reached out to me asking for a photograph of me with the award to publish it on their website to promote diversity in my surgical speciality. While this award might not inspire people to specifically choose a career in the NHS, I think that it may inspire BAME people to try to reach the highest ranks within whichever career they decide to pursue.
BAME healthcare workers were on the frontline with COVID-19. Does the public know enough?
I thought that everyone was pulling their weight equally. However, I later found out that not everyone was volunteering to be on the frontline. BAME staff were disproportionately asked to go into “COVID-19 areas” and agreed because of their sense of duty to care for patients. I believe that some were pressured to do so as they were placed quite low in the hierarchy. I would say that no BAME member of staff within the Trust or the country was promoted in the media for doing good deeds. The only thing that I recall hearing of BAME staff was when they reported on their deaths.
Where would the British healthcare sector be without BAME workers?
The health service in this country would have collapsed without BAME contributions. The consultant body alone accounts for more than 60% of BAME staff, regardless of which part of the country you select. This is despite the percentage of BAME people in the population being less than 13% of any area. BAME staff are the true workers within the NHS though they are disgustingly under-represented on hospital boards.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, in what areas do BAME staff need more support?
BAME staff have been very shy in complaining about their social and working conditions during the pandemic. In general, they have not approached anyone regarding health, social, economic, or mental health issues. Two issues were raised during the pandemic; the first was around COVID-19 risk assessment, and the second was carrying over annual leave entitlements. Both issues were raised in the BAME network meeting.
The network approached them head-on by directly approaching the Trust. This led to changes in the risk assessment forms and staff feeling more protected in the workplace. Staff that had friends and family living abroad wished to hold back their leave to travel overseas when the travel restrictions were relaxed. The Trust eventually agreed to a compromise in the amount of annual leave that could be carried over to the following year to the relief of BAME staff.
BAME workers are underrepresented in leadership roles in healthcare. How can we boost representation?
Within the NHS, BAME staff make up the majority of staff working as clinicians and as supporting non-managerial staff. However, they make up a negligible proportion of higher leadership in the NHS, most notably in the boardroom.
There is ample evidence to support the “snowy white peaks” of hospital leadership. The time for collecting more data is long past. We need to make inroads into actually addressing the disproportional representation, especially on trust boards. Of course, to be on boards requires academic and experiential qualifications. I have recommended that the trusts implement academic scholarships for on-the-job part-time courses nationally and internationally recognised. I also believe that before going on the course, applicants should shadow or be on a short sabbatical before and after the course. I believe that it is important that the applicants have a ‘pre-course taster on the job experience’ to help them ensure they have the aptitude and enthusiasm for their chosen career pathway.
I believe that the cost of these placements should be shared by the trust in the form of money and by the candidate in the form of part of their annual/study leave entitlement. In this way, I believe that both have invested in the process, thus showing commitment. It is particularly important to have a post-course placement. An academic qualification without on-the-job experience is hopeless, especially for BAME staff who are already disadvantaged. These initiatives should go hand-in-hand with mentoring and coaching sessions. Having a mentor gives people the real tools for career progression.
With these initiatives, I believe that we should be at least aiming for proportional representation in the trust boardroom in five years – by that, I mean hitting 13% representation. I would also expect to see female presence in the boardroom to be approaching 50%. In reality, this falls well short of the 60% representation of BAME staff in most hospitals. By encouraging internal mentoring, coaching, shadowing, and work placements, we will encourage staff loyalty and retention.
Do you see yourself as a role model?
I have never thought of myself as a role model, yet I was one of very few to qualify as a dentist, OMF Surgeon, and hold the position of Clinical Lead. However, I aim to be a role model for people and not for one racial group.
An interesting thing was brought to my attention that made me reconsider the influence that I may have on people. From my time as a junior doctor, I was aware that bad handwriting made managing patients dangerous. Therefore, I decided that I would only write in block capitals so my notes could be easily read. Through my training, I had not come across anyone that did this. Recently, I saw a set of notes that looked like mine but was not quite my handwriting. I found out that a few junior doctors from this year had taken up this practice. I realised that I might have influenced them to do so. I had not directly asked them to do this, but they had done it nevertheless. I suppose the point I am trying to make is that you don’t always know how much you influence another person.
My experience has been that the greater your prominence in leadership roles, the more likely it is that people come to you for advice as your title and position somehow validate your ability to give advice. I was heartened to have a senior consultant approach me for advice on how he could become more active in the BAME network. I am proud to attribute this to my work within the network, the success of the BAME Network Annual Conference, my BAME Health and Care Award, and the exposure of the Touched By COVID campaign.
What’s the best way to amplify the conversation about BAME healthcare workers?
The best way to amplify the conversation is to mobilise and organise BAME people to keep the conversation going amongst ourselves in person or via social media. Talking amongst ourselves helps iron out the differences of interpretation on points to concentrate on the really important issues. We then need to recruit powerful allies, remembering that all non-BAME people have their unique power. It must be impressed upon them that they need to be strong and vocal to be a good ally.
To find out more about the National BAME Health & Care Awards, please click here. To nominate yourself or someone else for an award for next year’s outing, click here.