Third of BAME NHS staff have been bullied by colleagues, report finds

19 Feb 2020 By Maggie Baska

Experts say rise in violence against and harassment of ethnic minority employees shows the health service has not yet ‘slain the dragon of discrimination’

Almost a third of black, asian and minority ethnic (BAME) NHS staff have been the victim of bullying, harassment or abuse from colleagues in the past year, according to new data. 

In the latest NHS Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES) report, 29 per cent of BAME staff reported experiencing this, up from 27 per cent in 2016. Fewer than a quarter (24 per cent) of white colleagues in the NHS reported similar treatment.

The WRES report, launched in April 2015, measures the experience and career opportunities of both BAME and white NHS workers using nine indicators, including workforce representation, training, access to promotion and exposure to discrimination.

This latest report shows that five years after the organisation launched a drive to improve race equality in the health service, BAME NHS staff reported a worsening experience. The latest figures found 15 per cent of BAME staff have been personally discriminated against by a manager, team leader or other colleague at work, compared to 6 per cent of white NHS workers. 

Speaking at a British Medical Journal event on race and the NHS, which coincided with the publication of the WRES report, Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive of the NHS, said the report “holds a mirror up to the NHS”. 

“The NHS is the largest employer of [BAME] people in the country, and this latest assessment of race equality in the health service shows both how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go,” Stevens said. “Patients get better care when their doctors, nurses and other staff feel valued and are treated fairly.”

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The report also found there had been a rise in staff reporting abuse and bullying from patients and the public. Almost a third (30 per cent) of BAME staff reported experiencing harassment, bullying or abuse from patients, patients’ relatives or the public, compared to 29 per cent in 2018.

The WRES data coincided with the release of the NHS staff survey for England, which included responses from 569,440 workers. It indicated harassment and abuse was on the rise more generally in the health service. 

Almost a third (29 per cent) of NHS workers have been bullied, harassed or abused in the past year by patients and members of the public, the survey found. It revealed one in five (19 per cent) reported being bullied by other colleagues, and 12 per cent by managers. 

Additionally, 7.7 per cent of staff reported being discriminated against by their manager or colleagues in the last year, down from 8.1 per cent in 2018. Of those saying they experienced discrimination at work, almost half (45 per cent) cited their ethnic background as the reason for such discrimination, up 4 per cent from last year. 

Responding to the figures, Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said the healthcare sector had “still not slain the dragon of discrimination”. The gap in the experience between BAME and white staff when it came to workplace violence had widened, he highlighted, adding that while the results of the survey were better overall than in previous years, it was a “disgrace” that many NHS staff faced violence, bullying and discrimination. 

Dr Helena McKeown, chief officer at the British Medical Association, said it was an “intolerable” situation. It was particularly upsetting that BAME employees suffered discrimination and abuse more frequently than white colleagues, she said. 

“The NHS could not survive without the incredible contribution of BAME doctors, and we all owe them a huge debt of gratitude – and the NHS owes them a duty of care,” McKeown said. “All staff must feel confident coming forward when they are subject to abuse or harassment, and must do so in the knowledge that something will be done.”

She called on the NHS to create a more supportive working environment that was “fair and rooted in equality and respectfulness”, and to take “decisive” action where staff were subject to abusive behaviours.

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