NHS racism alive and well – so when will it be cured?

Shocking figures show that ethnic minority staff face harassment from
patients and colleagues every day.  Ben
Willmott asks what one of the UK’s largest employers is doing to tackle the
problem

The HR profession still has a long way to go in tackling racism in the NHS,
according to two major studies.

A confidential government report has revealed that at least half of
frontline staff from ethnic minorities were victims of racial harassment last
year. A third were harassed by their healthcare colleagues and a quarter by NHS
managers.

The report, which was leaked to The Guardian newspaper last week, follows
closely on the heels of a study by independent health charity King’s Fund,
which claimed that black and Asian doctors face racism every day.

Despite the advent of the Race Relations (Amendment) Act this year, it found
that ethnic minority doctors are less likely to be promoted to the best jobs.

"I find the results surprising and shocking. I think we need to
acknowledge that there is a lot of work being done on diversity by trusts, but
obviously there is a lot more still to do," said John Adsett, secretary of
the Association of Healthcare Human Resource Management.

Adsett is particularly concerned about the Department of Health report’s
finding that complaints were sometimes not followed up by managers.

It commissioned consultancy Lemos & Crane to carry out the study, which
was based on the responses from focus groups in 52 NHS trusts in London,
Greater Manchester, Merseyside, the Black Country, south-west Yorkshire and
Birmingham/Solihull.

The results show that 46.2 per cent of staff from ethnic minorities
experienced racial harassment and 37.9 per cent witnessed incidents.

Staff in the front line, such as doctors, dentists, nurses, therapists and
support workers, are the most likely to suffer racial abuse.

The report says, "It would be safe to conclude that racial harassment
is still a pervasive phenomenon in the NHS, largely unrecorded, with little
action taken to resolve the problem or give address to those affected."

Mike Griffin, HR director for King’s College Hospital NHS Trust in London,
believes a zero-tolerance approach needs to be enforced in order to tackle.

He believes most of the racism towards ethnic staff comes from patients
rather than colleagues.

"A proportion of ethnic staff do experience harassment, which they
would experience as racial harassment, but not to the extent outlined in the
report," he said.

Griffin is waiting for the results of a staff survey carried out at King’s
College Hospital, which includes a question asking employees if they have
experienced harassment from colleagues.

"Our objective is to ensure that staff feel they are supported where
they encounter harassment of whatever kind and feel that the trust is there to
assist and support them," he said.

The Commission for Racial Equality’s spokesman Chris Myant believes the
report highlights serious shortcomings in the way the NHS deals with race
equality issues.

He is optimistic that the Race Relations (Amendment) Act will make the NHS
get its house in order. The Act came into force in April and means that all
public organisations will have to eliminate institutional racism and promote
equal opportunities and good race relations.

"We deal with quite a significant number of cases in respect of the
NHS. It has been a worry to us for many years that the premier caring service
in the UK and one of the largest employers has continued to fail to deal with
race equality practice in its employment arrangements," said Myant.

"This is further evidence of the need for a Race Relations (Amendment)
Act and the procedures it will bring in across the health service as in other
parts of the public sector.

"This is post-MacPherson Britain, the carpet is being pulled back and
we are beginning to see what is going on."

Legal experts believe that NHS trusts will have to promote good race
relations under the Act.

Makbool Javaid, a partner at law firm DLA, said, "Trusts will find
themselves vulnerable to actions under the Act, both by individuals and the
CRE, which also has enforcement powers."

South Birmingham Mental Health NHS Trust has reacted to the new legislation
by appointing a manager to promote racial equality and tackle racial harassment
in the workplace.

Mohammed Arif, who took up the post in April, said racism in the workplace
is still a major concern. "We will do everything in our power to ensure we
review our policies and practices to ensure that as an organisation we are not
institutionally racist," he said.

Health minister John Hutton claimed the Government is committed to stamping
out racism in the NHS. He said, "We cannot get the best from NHS staff if
those who are from an ethnic minority suffer racism. Racism has absolutely no
place in the NHS. That means the culture of the NHS must change and every NHS
employer must play their part.

"This is why we are moving on to a new phase of the programme, which
will make leaders in the NHS accountable for building a service which is free
from harassment and discrimination.

"We recognise, however, that this will not happen overnight. Many of
our staff will need new knowledge and skills if race equality is to be truly
mainstreamed into our work. We are determined to make that change happen."

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