NHS has a duty to recognise and confront structural racism and discrimination

14 February 2022

Responding to a new report by the NHS Race and Health Observatory on ethnic inequalities in healthcare, the deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, Saffron Cordery said:

"This report highlights in stark detail how NHS staff from ethnic minority backgrounds experience racism at work, and patients from ethnic minority backgrounds have worse experiences of healthcare than their white counterparts.

"This is unacceptable. As the largest employer of Black, Asian and minority ethnic people in the country and as the provider of universal healthcare, free at the point of need, the NHS has both a duty and responsibility to recognise and confront the structural racism and discrimination that still exists within the UK.

"The review echoes the findings of the NHS Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES) data for 2020, which found clear evidence that staff from ethnic minorities face more barriers in progressing their careers than their white counterparts. Staff from ethnic minorities were also more likely to report experiencing harassment, bullying and abuse from patients, relatives or the public than white colleagues.

"Trust leaders will be deeply disappointed that little has changed between the publication of the WRES data and this report. It is clear that there is an onus upon leaders at every level of the NHS to act.

"There is also a clear link between structural racism, wider health and ethnic inequalities and poorer health outcomes across all stages of life. For example, the review identifies specific challenges facing maternity services as well as barriers to seeking help for mental health problems being rooted in a distrust of primary and mental health providers, as well as a fear or being discriminated against in healthcare.

"As we seek to bear down on waiting lists, it is clear that there must be a focus on correcting inequalities of access to healthcare linked to ethnicity or deprivation.

"But more must be done. It is only through honest conversation about racism, its structural roots and its impact, that change can be achieved and prejudices dispelled. Cultural changes must be delivered from the top down, with buy in from boards and senior leaders who demonstrate the behaviours expected and needed – collectively and individually. Leaders must actively acknowledge entrenched systems and processes that perpetuate structural racism and inequality within their organisations.

"We look forward to working with national bodies to drive forward improvements and recommendations to ensure that our NHS is a just health service for all."