LEADING Asians from the NHS have called for action after a new national survey found that racism and discrimination against minority staff was widespread in the NHS.
The experiences of BME and white workers from a 2015 staff survey at every NHS trust across England were published last Thursday (2) in the inaugural report of the NHS Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES).
It found that 75 per cent of black, minority and ethics (BME) had been victims of bullying or harassment by team leaders or managers, and 86 per cent of BME staff believed that the NHS as employers did not offer equal opportunities or chances of promotion.
Dr Kailash Chand, deputy chair of the British Medical Association (BMA), has worked as a GP since 1983. He told Eastern Eye: “I have more than 30 years experience in the NHS at all levels. I have witnessed the unfair treatment many NHS black and minority ethnic (BME) staff receive in recruitment, promotion, training, discipline and pay.
“A zero-tolerance approach needs to be enforced in order to tackle racism and bullying. Every organisation which makes up the NHS, including the GMC (General Medical Council), the Roy Colleges, the BMA and the trusts, all need to contribute to a deep introspection on how social justice, fairness and equality may once again frame the NHS as it first did in 1948. Only then can we be confident that practical solutions will emerge which will truly make a difference.”
In 2014, a survey called “The Snowy White Peaks of the NHS” found that BME workers were treated less favourably than white staff in recruitment,
including to boards, access to career development
and disciplinary processes. They were also bullied more and victimised more seriously if they were whistle-blowers.
Dr Chand noted the low levels of BME staff in senior positions in the NHS and at board level. He cited latest statistics that show 20 per cent of nurses and 37 per cent of doctors are from BME backgrounds. Yet just six per cent of senior and very senior managers in the NHS are from a BME background, and just over seven per cent of trust board members are in this category.
It is no better in London, where over two fifths of the city’s population is from a BME background, yet just eight per cent of NHS trust board members are from a minority background. London currently has just one BME trust chair and not one BME chief executive. Almost two fifths of London’s NHS trust boards have no voting BME members at all.
Dr Ramesh Mehta is president of British Association
of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO). He said: “This [report] actually confirms what we have been saying for years. As an organisation we feel at last the government has accepted that this is a major problem. What we are hoping is that now our government will really act properly, to do something about it rather than talk about it.
“Evidence of racism and discrimination for BMEs in the NHS has become all too familiar, with numerous studies in the last 15 years pointing to this fact, with little in the way of progress to address the issues.”
In 2001, a report by think tank Kings Fund, “Racism in Medicine”, found that bullying and discrimination were a daily part of life for black and Asian doctors. Two years later, a BMA survey revealed more than 80 per cent of minority ethnic doctors believed their ethnicity had a negative effect on their career advancement. In 2004, the Royal College of Psychiatrists accepted that racism existed in the NHS and their own institution. “The 2004 NHS Race Equality Action Plan acknowledged the challenge. Twelve years later, every single mechanism it put in place has been dismantled,” said Dr Chand.
Joan Saddler, co-chair of the NHS Equality and Diversity Council and associate director at the NHS Confederation, told Eastern Eye that “NHS organisations need to ensure that they are adhering to the public sector equality duty to ensure institutional racism and discrimination have no place in the NHS”.
NHS England said is investing £2 million to improve the treatment of BME staff, which includes training and developing 75 mentors across different hospitals and departments to tackle inequality and discrimination.
Dr Mehta said BAPIO has started working with a hospital trust to develop a “conflict resolution service” where it will act as a mediator to resolve any issues of harassment or bullying of doctors. He hopes the government will introduce this service throughout the NHS.
Roger Kline, NHS England director, workforce race equality standard research and engagement, said: “This report holds a mirror to the service and underlines the challenge we face.
“Over the next year, alongside highlighting the challenge the NHS faces, we will be working alongside NHS organisations to embed good practice to improve the treatment of BME staff and contribute to improved care for patients.”
Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, and co-chair of the NHS Equality and Diversity Council, explained: “This report provides unvarnished feedback to every hospital and trust across the NHS about the experiences of their BME staff.
“It confirms that while some employers have got it right, for many others these staff survey results are both deeply concerning and a clear call to action. As this is the first year of the WRES, it provides a transparent baseline from which each employer will now be seeking to improve.”