Is the NHS ‘subconsciously racist’?

Head of BMA calls on health service to address bias that keeps black and ethnic minority staff out of top roles

Doctors working for the NHS
(Image credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Chaand Nagpaul, the first non-white doctor to lead the British Medical Association (BMA), has accused the NHS of being “subconsciously racist”.

The careers of black and ethnic minority, or BME, doctors have been hampered by a culture of “inequality” and bias in the system, he claims.

Nagpaul told The Daily Telegraph that the health service frequently overlooks non-white doctors for senior posts. “There is probably a subconscious bias that needs to be addressed,” he said.

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The BMA boss continued: “For example, there is evidence that doctors from BME origins face disciplinary procedures more than whites. We need to address that.”

Analysis of data for 2016 and 2017 by NHS England found that white shortlisted job applicants were “relatively more likely” to be appointed than their BME colleagues. Non-white staff were also more likely to report “harassment, bullying or abuse from colleagues”, and to suffer discrimination from a manager or colleague.

“BME staff are over-represented in low grades and under represented at senior levels across the organisations,” according to the report, published earlier this year.

Nagpaul, who has been a GP for 29 years, told the Telegraph: “At every stage in my career I have prepared and worked much harder than I would have needed to in order to secure positions. I’ve just accepted that. Sadly, there is little doubt there is still a lack of equality in terms of staff in the NHS. That’s of detriment to the population.”

The Race Equality Foundation told the newspaper that many NHS bosses thought they were “more progressive than they really are” and were “complacent” about the experience of BME doctors.

Speaking at a BMA summit in July, NHS Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES) director Yvonne Coghill said that the low number of BME staff at the top of the health service was down to “structural inequality” and “institutional racism”. Such barriers must be “systematically dismantled or else we are not going to get anywhere”, she added.

Responding to the Telegraph report, an NHS England spokesperson said: “Ensuring our workforce is more representative of the people we care for is good for both staff and patients.”

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