Black nurses working for the NHS are as likely to be disciplined  as they are to be overlooked for promotion, NHS England’s equality chief Yvonne Coghill (pictured) has said.

“How many black and minority ethnic nurses [BAME] in the country work as directors of nursing? The answer is four,” she said. “London is the worse place for the equality gap. You are more likely to be disciplined and five times less likely to get a job.”

That is why so many black nurses bypassed the hierarchy and worked as agency nurses, which was very costly.

Speaking at the launch of the Royal College of Nursing’s Black History Month last week she said although there had been some progress, the problems outlined in the government’s race disparity audit, published earlier in the week, were nothing new.

“It is saying what was being said 40 years ago when I first started in the NHS,” she told the gathering at the RCN’s headquarters in Cavendish Square.“There were 24 nurses in my [class] set and most went on to become directors of nursing. Of the four BAME nurses, aside from myself two are health workers and one has left the profession. Something is going on in our society that means it is not working well.”

However, the NHS’ Workforce Race Equality Standard, set up in 2014, was attempting “to change the narrative” with a programme requiring all hospitals trusts to produce data measuring their own equity levels. “The statistics speak for themselves and there is nowhere to hide anymore and talk of people having chips on their shoulders,” said Ms Coghill, its director of implementation.

Challenging racism delivered better outcomes in terms productivity and better health care, she added.

Ms Coghill’s talk also marked the opening of the RCN’s new exhibition Hidden in Plain Sight, which celebrates the profession’s diversity, including the role of LGBT and deaf nurses.

Adwoa Korkoh Reporting.