The NHS Scientist Training Programme has 10x lower acceptance rate for Black applicants compared to White applicants

A recent Freedom of Information request by current trainees on the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP) has revealed the application and admission ethnicity data for the 2019 STP cohort in England and Wales.

The STP is a highly competitive three-year training programme to qualify as a clinical scientist within the NHS, and also obtain a university accredited master’s degree. The table below shows the application and admission statistics for the 2019 STP cohort*. The full available statistics have been published by the National School of Healthcare Science (NSHCS).

EthnicityTotal applicants*Total offers acceptedProportion of applicants admitted
White5,2533381 in 16
Asian1,549551 in 28
Black64041 in 160
Other (including Mixed ethnicity)443161 in 28
*289 applicants, including 21 who accepted offers, did not state their ethnicity and have been excluded from this analysis.

It is clear that White applicants have the highest probability of being accepted onto the training scheme. Although 67% of the applicants who stated their ethnicity identified as White, 1 in 16 applicants from this group were accepted onto the scheme, making up 82% of the final cohort. The acceptance rate for Black applicants was 10x lower. Despite receiving 640 applications (making up 8% of total applicants), only 4 Black trainee scientists were accepted onto the scheme, resulting in an acceptance rate of just 1 in every 160 applicants and making up 1% of the final cohort.

Black applicants had the lowest chance of being admitted onto the scheme, however other ethnic minorities were also underrepresented compared to their application rates. A range of Asian ethnicities were captured with acceptance rates ranging from 1 in 49 for Pakistani applicants to 1 in 14 for Chinese applicants, which was one of the highest acceptance rates. The highest acceptance rate for any ethnic group was 1 in 9 for White Irish applicants.

“The School and HEE (Higher Education England) are clear that we will listen, learn and work with BAME and other colleagues to play our part in ending racism and discrimination wherever it may exist.” – National School of Healthcare Science

In a statement of response to the Freedom of Information request, the NSHCS acknowledged that “within the wider context of the complex contributors to this issue we recognise that the School has a role to play, as outlined in the open letter, to improve BAME representation in healthcare science.”

The school outlined some of the actions they aim to take to tackle this issue, including publishing further statistics on the ethnicity and diversity of previous and future applicants, setting up an Equality and Diversity forum with a dedicated staff member, and providing online anti-racism training for STP training officers and supervisors. The school also asked all current STP trainees and alumni to become STEM ambassadors and mentors to “help raise awareness of the role of healthcare scientists in the NHS and the career opportunities available.”

These findings are even more shocking considering that BAME applicants are actually over-representated at the beginning of the STP application process. The proportions of both Black and Asian applicants were more than double those of the population of England and Wales (although it should be noted that UK citizenship is not a requirement of admission onto the STP). The STP should celebrate that they received such a high number of applications from Black applicants, who are underrepresented in the UK at undergraduate level, particularly for those receiving 1st class and 2:1 degree classifications. However, the high number of BAME applicants has clearly not translated into the equal admission of BAME STP trainees.

It is difficult to untangle the many complex factors that may be contributing to the bias in the overall STP ethnicity data. This is in part because the STP admissions process is so complicated, and applicants are filtered through multiple stages of the process. These stages include a range of online aptitude tests, short answer essays and multiple interviews before successful applicants are filtered by location preference. Additionally, there are separate assessments for external applicants and in-service applicants who are already employed by the NHS.

Further complexities arise due to the multiple scientific specialties that are covered by the STP, ranging from cancer genomics to medical physics. According to the 2018 competition ratios, the acceptance rate for each stream is highly varied, ranging from 1 in 6 applicants being accepted onto the reconstructive science specialty to 1 in 105 for the most competitive microbiology stream. The NSHCS has agreed to publish the ethnicity data for the 2018 and 2019 trainee cohorts by specialty, which will hopefully provide a clearer view of differences in the recuitment and admission of BAME candidates within the different specialties.

It is difficult to know exactly where exactly the problems within the STP recruitment pipeline lie. However, the applications and admissions ethnicity data expose some alarming issues with the current process. It is clear that the NSHCS has a significant amount of work to do to address these, in order to form a balanced and equal workforce of future leaders in UK healthcare science.

You can find more NHS workforce ethnicity statistics on the NHS workforce ethnicity facts and figures webpage.

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