Calling the Jubilee

“It may well be that we will have to repent in this generation. Not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say, “Wait on time.” – Martin Luther King

Several years ago I sat with my good friend Yvonne Coghill having dinner. We talked about many things. It was night of deep conversation, much laughter and real energy. Yvonne then told me something that shocked me. She explained that across the NHS when you go up the structure people like her – black people and people from minority communities – start to disappear. The top was all white. Yvonne explained all the evidence shows that this occurs all over our health systems. Yvonne also explained there was good work going on to change this. I was deeply disturbed and that night said I wanted to do something to support this change. On the way home my mind reeled with thoughts. ‘Why should people be excluded for their skin?’, ‘Why does a service based on need exclude the talents and gifts of people from minority communities?’ and ‘This is so wrong and yet I had never heard about it anywhere before.’ Over the weeks and months later I shared the picture with others. Some knew  – most did not. People in other statutory services also started to share with me that the picture was identical in their structures too.

Last week NHS England published the WRES ( Workforce Race Equality Standard ) which Yvonne, Roger Kline and other good people had worked so tirelessly on. The WRES looks at NHS services and trusts and records the experiences of people from BME communities. The WRES is a barometer to tell us where we are. I believe there are two fundamental tasks that flow from the WRES.

The first is that we name the shame. In the last few years more and more people have learnt the fact that BME people are often excluded and receive poor treatment. We need to accept and own this shame. We shouldn’t deny it or appeal to the ‘wait for a better time’ that Dr King warned us about. Neither must we use this shame to beat ourselves up but as a light to see and create the future. A torch rather than a whip.

The second is we must change the game.There is something in our systems that is working to perpetuate and sustain these differentials of shame and injustice. I am not sure what they all are. Some are probably deep seated, hidden and self perpetuating. I do know we need to work for alternative dynamics and energies that offer new paradigms for people excluded and feeling excluded. The WRES is a support for these two much needed aspects to emerge and embed.

The ancient Hebrews used to have a practice of Jubilee. Every 49th or 50th year something amazing happened. The year started with a ram’s horn been blown ( the horn is called a shofar ). All debts were cancelled and slaves were freed. If a man in debt sold his land to escape poverty it was returned to him. The idea was that in this year liberty and reversal of misfortune would happen. Maybe the NHS needs a Jubilee of its own. For the bullying of staff to stop, for families and carers to be fully listened to and included, for staff to look after themselves and each other, for care for patients to be primary, to embrace and support social care as our sister, teacher and equal and to build positively with our great third sector colleagues. And for BME staff to be fully included in all levels of our service and not just be included but feel valued. That is why I support the WRES. It is a sign of what we can be – Jubilee people. People who see and act when we view something so wrong. The quote by Martin Luther King is from his work ‘A Testament of Hope.’ Maybe that word ‘hope’ sums up why Yvonne, Roger and so many more are there working and struggling for these shifts for justice and equity. They are people who work for positive change and sow seeds of hope. I am honored to stand with them.

John Walsh


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