British Medical Association finds ‘serious failures’ in way Black and ethnic minority NHS staff are treated

The largest survey of racism in medicine has found doctors and medical students consider the high levels of racism in the NHS to be a ‘debilitating’ problem.

By errol edwards
Wednesday, 2nd February 2022, 3:34 pm
The British Medical Association has found serious failures in the NHS, in the way Black and ethnic minority medical staff are treated
The British Medical Association has found serious failures in the NHS, in the way Black and ethnic minority medical staff are treated

A report from the BMA has shared interim findings from the association’s Racism in Medicine survey which reveals doctors from all ethnic minority backgrounds consider racism a problem in the medical profession.

The survey, which covered more than 2,000 doctors and medical students across the UK, is believed to be the largest of its kind on experiences of racism in the profession.

Just over 90 per cent of Black and Asian respondents, 73 per cent of mixed and 64 per cent of white respondents said racism in the medical profession was an issue.

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A report from the BMA has shared interim findings from the association’s Racism in Medicine survey

The survey revealed 75.6 per cent of the doctors surveyed experienced racism at least once in the last two years, with 17.4 per cent experiencing racist incidents on a regular basis.

The survey also shows a low-level of reporting for racist incidents, with 71 per cent of doctors who experienced racism, choosing not to report it to anyone due to a lack of confidence that the incident would be addressed, or a fear they would be labelled ‘troublemakers’.

The report also revealed that 20 per cent who had experienced racism, reported that racist behaviour came from patients.

A junior doctor of mixed ethnic background said: “I was called ‘headscarf b**ch’ by a patient.”

And another of Asian background said: “Working in A&E was a nightmare. Continued racist behaviour from patients and their relatives. Due to this, I have decided not to pursue a career in emergency medicine.”

A consultant of ‘other ethnic background’ said: “A patient suggested I can be deported if they suffer post-op complications.”

The survey also exposes the wider issues associated with racism in the profession.

Nearly a fifth of doctors said that they either considered leaving, or left their job within the past two years due to race discrimination.

A consultant of Indian background said: “I was not taken seriously. Emails were ignored. I was branded and suffered work related stress and hypertension. I think of leaving this job every day.”

Nearly 60 per cent of doctors who experienced racism, said that the incident had negatively impacted on their mental health causing them to suffer depression, anxiety, and increased stress levels

A junior doctor of Pakistani background said: “When interacting with senior colleagues, I would notice that they were nicer and more helpful towards other junior doctors who were born in UK and were white. I would be clearly treated and spoken to differently.”

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA chair of council, said: “The results from this survey, though interim, show unacceptable levels of racism within the NHS which cannot be ignored.

“Doctors from ethnic minority backgrounds and those who qualified outside the UK but are registered to practice here, want to focus on caring for patients, without the burden of abuse that comes from demoralising and often debilitating experiences of racism in the workplace.

“The findings highlight the negative impact that racist experiences have on doctor retention, wellbeing, and career progression - an indisputable rebuttal to the government’s claims in its Sewell report that the NHS is a success story for ethnic minority doctors.

"Portraying the NHS as a success purely because of the numbers of staff from ethnic minority backgrounds employed within the service, shows little acknowledgement of the racist incidents that these staff members deal with on a regular basis. In fact, while this survey found low levels of reporting racist incidents it also showed that nearly six in 10 doctors (58.2 per cent) found when they did report a racist incident it had a negative impact on them.

“These experiences of racism are clearly undermining the NHS’ ability to bring out the best in its workforce and there is no doubt that this will be having a knock-on effect on patient services.”

He added that the GMC’s independent report into the wellbeing of doctors and medical students had found lots of evidence that workplace stress affected the quality of care for patients as well as doctors’ own health.

"It’s high time the conversation on race equality in the medical profession changes – reflects NHS staff’s lived experiences and seeks solutions.

Employers and the government have a duty of care to address the concerns of those who work within the health service. Decision-makers must get their heads out of the sand and act now. The BMA will be publishing its full report with recommendations this spring which the government must act on as a matter of priority.”

Roger Kline, Research Fellow Middlesex University Business School, said: “These findings are shocking. There is now a wealth of research demonstrating the damage that discrimination and bullying does to staff health and wellbeing, impacting on staff sickness, turnover, productivity, effective team working and patient care and safety. It is simply unacceptable that such behaviours continue under the noses of NHS Trust Boards at a time when we have serious doctor shortages which such treatment will exacerbate.

“I hope this survey will move NHS organisations to urgently review their responses to racism and bullying, being proactive and preventative when data shows there is a problem, rather than waiting for individual doctors to raise concerns. I also hope that every doctor and manager is crystal clear what their response should be when faced by racism from patients with a clear policy in place, robustly applied.”