We must make the NHS a better place to work for everyone – and root out racism and discrimination for good

At the BMA we focus on and talk a great deal about making the NHS a better place to work for all of its staff.

As Chair of BMA Scotland’s Race Equality Forum, this is something that is particularly close to my heart.

Indeed there can be little doubt of the importance of this issue – both to help doctors themselves deal with prejudice and discrimination they are facing, but also for the long term good of the NHS and crucially its workforce.

Both personally and amongst many of my colleagues, I am afraid the experience of racism and discriminatory behaviour while working in the NHS remains all too common.

First and foremost, this behaviour and some of the barriers that doctors from ethnic minorities face is simply wrong. We must condemn it and tackle it as a moral imperative.

But it is also a real concern that, at a time when we are short of doctors and at risk of losing more to burn out and exhaustion, discriminatory behaviour will push more vital staff out of the NHS. To be clear, these are doctors we simply cannot afford to lose given the huge challenges our NHS faces.

It is for both these reasons that the evidence around the ongoing prevalence of discriminatory behaviour is so worrying.

The BMA today published a new report into racism in medicine which has revealed a profession in danger of a major exodus due to persistent and intolerable levels of racism faced at a personal and institutional level.  Nearly one third of doctors surveyed have considered leaving (23%) or have left their job (9%) within the past two years due to race discrimination, with 29% of Black and Asian doctors considering leaving and more than 1 in 10 quitting due to their experiences.

The survey is UK wide – you can read more here – but 13.6%, 276 in total, of respondents were from Scotland.

These results chime with our own survey carried out over a period of ten days in late November last year. To highlight some of the key points from the 535 responses to the Scottish specific survey:

  • Doctors from ethnic minorities are more likely to have to make multiple applications for post before being successfully appointed
  • Doctors from ethnic minorities are more likely to have a poor experience of induction than their white colleagues
  • Doctors from ethnic minorities are twice as likely to experience or witness unequal treatment in the workplace

The good news in Scotland is that we have used our survey results to begin to build a strong working relationship with the Scottish Government, so we can begin to really get to grips with the issues together. It is only through this joint working that I really believe we will make a difference.

We have had a productive meeting to set our initial priorities and discussed key actions flowing from our survey including:

  • Working with medical schools to include specific teaching elements on diverse treatments for different racial groups
  • Developing local sessions for staff on race equality, unconscious bias and active bystander interventions
  • Working with employers on PG education in soft skills and awareness of race and diversity issues
  • Improving data collection and analysis on race and ethnicity of the NHS Scotland workforce
  • Engaging with local employers to create forums or support groups for race issues

In particular we want to work with the Government on the commitment they have already made to establish a network of champions across NHS boards, including at senior and executive team levels on race, disability and LBGTQ with the involvement of staff networks, trade unions and professional organisations. We need to know what progress has been made across Scotland as I believe this is crucial move and demonstrates the real commitment on all sides to make things better.

There is no doubt that today’s survey results show we have a long way to go to truly make the NHS a better place to work for everyone – and root out racism and discrimination for good. But at the BMA Scottish Race Equality Forum I can assure you we are working tirelessly to pursue improvements and make sure this issue is right at the top of key people’s agenda – where it absolutely must be. Keep following the BMA on social media and at our blog site and I’ll keep you up to date on progress.

Dr Raj Padmanabhan is a Consultant Anaesthetist and the first Chair of the BMA Scotland Race Equality Forum

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