The 5th of July 2013 marks the 65th anniversary of the NHS. This is a momentous occasion. It gives the UK a chance to take pride in the knowledge our country has one of the most successful health care systems in the world. The NHS philosophy is one based on equality, in that every person resident in the UK receive equal treatment as they require. If you break your leg, you know where to get an x-ray. If your loved one is diagnosed with cancer, it would be fair for you to assume that they will be given exemplary care. Despite this however, there are continuing difficulties for BME people in accessing health services. (For further information on this issue you can see Chapter 9 of the EHRC’s publication ‘How Fair Is Britain?’ available here). But, what about those employed by the health service, the faces behind the NHS?
The National Health Service have always been heavily dependent upon skilled professionals from all over the world. It is the largest employer of BME people in the UK, approximately 193,000 in fact. The NHS currently employs around 30 per cent of nurses and doctors from black and minority ethnic (BME) groups with approximately 30 per cent of doctors and 40 per cent of nurses born outside the UK.
Many have had fascinating careers and have achieved great things within the institution which is indeed being recognised by the NHS in a series of celebration to their work (and quite rightly so); however, when it comes to senior management, BME individuals are wildly underrepresented. The figures, unfortunately, speak for themselves. Fewer than 10 per cent of NHS senior managers and only 1 per cent of NHS chief executives have a minority ethnic background. Yet those from a minority ethnic background are disproportionately involved in disciplinaries, grievances, bullying and harassment cases and capability reviews.
A survey commissioned by the Department of Health in 2000 found half of frontline NHS BME staff had been victims of racial harassment in the previous 12 months; since then, reports of racism in healthcare have increased. In 2003, a British Medical Association survey revealed more than 80% of minority ethnic doctors believed that their ethnicity had a negative effect on their career advancement. In 2004 the Royal College of Psychiatrists accepted that racism existed in the NHS and in their own institution.
Therefore, despite their vital contribution to the progression of the National Health Service, the statistics coupled with evidence of health inequalities and inaccessible service provision, indicate that there is a very real and apparent presence of institutional racism at the heart of this great British institution.
So as we rightly celebrate this landmark of 65 years, why don’t we take the chance to not just celebrate the NHS but also the BME individuals that helped build and sustain this vital service? We have much to be proud about in our NHS but let’s not forget that the NHS still has its challenges to face, the existing Zero Tolerance Policies are not matched by the day to day experience of BME staff. More needs to be done, let’s hope this anniversary sees a new determination to stamp out racial discrimination.