In an attempt to tackle poor employment rates for disabled people and improve the experiences of disabled staff in the workplace, the NHS has developed a new Workforce Disability Equality Standard (WDES).

The project is an attempt to address the fact that in the UK just half of disabled people are in employment – compared to 80% of non-disabled people – and that disabled staff working for the NHS currently report higher levels of harassment and bullying and lower levels of satisfaction in terms of career progression.

The WDES is driven by NHS England and supported by NHS Employers – who provide practical tools and resources as well as expert advice and guidance to NHS organisations on how they can improve the employment, retention and experiences of disabled staff working for the NHS. A particular focus in the WDES is on encouraging NHS organisations to give their disabled staff a voice on matters that affect them by promoting better staff engagement and supporting disabled staff networks.


The WDES has been developed in partnership with disabled staff and their representatives – including trades unions – and is a data-based standard that uses a series of measures (metrics) to help improve the experiences of disabled staff in the NHS. The 10 metrics will be used to compare the reported outcomes and experiences of disabled staff with non-disabled staff. It will also allow NHS organisations to compare themselves with other similar organisations and to learn from best practice.

The NHS aims to move away from the focus on ‘inputs’ and to shift towards creating evidence-based ‘proven business outcomes’, which will then link into the wider equality and diversity agenda. In other words, it is trying to use the WDES to help organisations realise that by improving the employment journey of disabled staff they can improve the employment experiences of all staff. In this way, the NHS will become the ‘employer of choice’ and a model for other employment sectors to learn from and follow.

NHS Trusts and Foundation Trusts will be required to report and publish their results and develop action plans to address the differences highlighted by the metrics with the aim of improving workforce disability equality. Reports must be published by 30 September 2019 at the latest.

The WDES evidence-based metrics will help foster a better understanding of the issues faced by disabled staff, with key areas likely to focus on career development, appraisals, capability and recruitment processes. At the same time, it is envisaged that the concentrated focus on disability metrics for employees will also help to increase the understanding of disabled patients’ needs and eventually lead to better experiences and outcomes for patients.

The NHS has designed a suite of initiatives to create workplaces where staff feel valued, respected and safe to flourish and fulfil their full potential as part of the larger Long Term Plan announced earlier this year.