‘Shameful’ data reveals NHS treatment of minority ethnic staff

Shaun Lintern
The experience of black minority ethnic people in the NHS has got worse since NHS England launched an improvement drive: Getty

Almost a third of black and minority ethnic staff in the health service have been bullied, harassed or abused by their own colleagues in the past year, according to “shameful” new data.

Minority ethnic staff in the NHS have reported a worsening experience as employees across four key areas, in a blow to bosses at NHS England, five years after they launched a drive to improve race equality.

Critics warned the experiences reported by BME staff raised questions over whether the health service was “institutionally racist” as experts criticised the NHS “tick box” approach and “showy but pointless interventions”.

According to the latest workforce race equality data for the NHS 29 per cent of BME staff reported being bullied or abused by other NHS workers, up from 27 per cent in 2016.

More BME staff also reported being discriminated against by their manager, up one per cent to 15.4 per cent since 2016.

Although just under 70 per cent of BME staff felt they have equal career progression, this had fallen from 73 per cent in 2016.

There was also a rise in staff reporting abuse and bullying from patients and the public, up 1.3 per cent in a year and 0.7 per cent since 2016.

Roger Kline, a research fellow at Middlesex University Business School, helped draft NHS England’s workforce race equality standards after exposing the problem in a report called “The Snowy White Peaks” in 2014.

He told The Independent the latest results were “bad” adding: “I am unhappy to see it. If the NHS doesn’t improve the way in which it treats BME people you have to conclude it either is institutionally racist or it will be if this data doesn’t start to move.”

He warned the NHS was pursuing what he described as “tick box” approaches and relying on individuals to act instead of designing out bias by changing the way organisations work.

Danielle Oum, chair of Walsall Healthcare Trust, said: “These are shameful results for colleagues and also patients. We must do more and do better, focus on what works rather than showy but pointless interventions.”

The likelihood of black and minority staff to face formal disciplinary action compared to their white colleagues is one key metric for measuring race equality in the health service.

Overall this rate fell marginally since 2016 from 1.56 times to 1.22 times more likely in 2019.

But at more than 147, NHS trusts’ BME staff were more likely to face disciplinary action than their white colleagues.

Mental health trust Camden and Islington NHS Trust had the worst performance with BME staff 10 times more likely than white staff to be disciplined while the worst performing hospital trust was North Bristol Trust where BME staff were almost four times more likely to face disciplinary action.

In total 49 NHS trusts had a board that was comprised completely of white directors.

The total number of BME staff at a very senior manager level has increased by 21, from 122 in 2018 to 143 in 2019.

Dr Paul Donaldson, from the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association trade union, said: “It is deeply concerning to see that progress has not only stalled but reversed. These shocking figures demonstrate that simply hoping that the situation will improve is not good enough. We need a system-wide approach to tackling these deep-rooted issues, which could in some cases amount to institutional racism.

“We have been calling for an independent inquiry into the ethnicity pay gap in medicine for a number of years and we reiterate that call today. We also need to move towards a situation where nobody working in the NHS should have to feel unsafe when they are at work.”

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the British Medical Association, said it was “deeply saddening” to see how many staff encounter racism and discrimination adding: “This can no longer be allowed to continue.”

Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, warned of the link with safety adding: “Research indicates there is a link between harmful cultures and the safety of patients, so resolving these issues must not be allowed to wait. It is the right thing to do both by the individual professionals and their patients and plays a direct role in safely staffing England’s health service.”

In a press release, published on the same day as the cabinet reshuffle, NHS England said the data showed a significant increase in BME representation at board level in NHS organisations with all 36 NHS trusts in London now having at least one black or minority board member compared to 16 in 2014. Almost 45 per cent of all NHS staff in London are from a BME background.

NHS England has invested an extra £1 million to improve race equality and is rolling out new indicators this month to look at the experience of BME doctors.

NHS chief executive, Sir Simon Stevens, said the latest data showed “both how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go”.

He said the data “holds a mirror up to the NHS and the further action we now have to take”.

A spokesperson for Camden and Islington Trust said: "We do not believe the figures reflects a general trust trend. These were exceptional and very serious cases, largely connected to a single incident, where formal action was the only option. All our processes follow best practice and are scrutinised at every stage by a trust workforce, race, equality standard expert."

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