We need an urgent inquiry into institutional racism in the NHS
As long as this denial of obvious issues persists, the risk to BAME healthcare staff will continue, writes Abena Oppong-Asare MP. | PA Images
Institutional racism in the NHS has contributed to higher Covid-19 mortality among Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) healthcare workers. It is vital that the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) launch an urgent independent inquiry into systemic racism in the NHS.
From the start of the Covid-19 pandemic it was clear that some groups of people were disproportionately suffering from the different political, health and social impacts of the pandemic.
Protected characteristics are aspects of a person’s identity that are protected under the Equalities Act. Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic I’ve been compiling research from the lived experiences of constituents who are protected under this Act.
These first-hand experiences have formed the basis of my new report ‘Leaving Nobody Behind in Erith and Thamesmead’.
It became instantly clear that existing inequalities have become more prominent during this crisis and people that were already at risk of health inequalities have been made more so.
In April 2020, independent research by the Health Service Journal (HSJ) found that BAME individuals account for 63% of all NHS staff deaths from Covid-19 yet make up just 21% of the overall NHS workforce.
This figure should have shocked the Government into action, to understand and tackle the contributing factors at play. Instead a Public Health England report was released months later stating the little information we already had.
Even after I pressed Health Minister Matt Hancock to publish a report into the impacts of Covid-19 on all protected characteristics, they failed to act.
I therefore took it upon myself to research the disproportionate impacts and the changes we must make to address them.
The workplace discrimination BAME people face has failed to be addressed for decades. The starkest finding in my report is that institutional racism in the NHS has contributed to higher Covid-19 mortality among BAME healthcare workers.
Through my conversations with EveryDoctor, a doctor-led campaigning organisation, it has become clear that a culture of institutional racism is prevalent in NHS workplaces and this has been detrimental to the safety of BAME staff during Covid-19.
Anecdotal evidence collected by EveryDoctor during the Covid-19 pandemic found that 63% of BAME doctors felt pressured to work in wards treating Covid patients, compared with 33% of their white counterparts.
In April 2020, 47% of doctors reported being unable to access World Health Organisation (WHO) standard PPE and BAME doctors said they were unable to advocate for themselves due to fear of repercussion.
This is likely due to the fact that employers and healthcare providers refer BAME doctors to the General Medical Council (GMC) at more than double the rate of their white counterparts.
Whilst there is no doubt in my mind that institutional racism has played a large role in this pandemic, there will be doubt in the minds of others due to the lack of research available surrounding this issue.
A report detailing the issues relating to workplace discrimination in the NHS would be the first step in ensuring fair and safe treatment for all staff.
It is vital that the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) launch an independent inquiry into systemic racism in the NHS as a matter of urgency.
A report detailing the issues relating to workplace discrimination in the NHS would be the first step in ensuring fair and safe treatment for all staff. However, there are ways in which NHS practices and the Government can step up to address these issues immediately.
NHS risk assessments have been called for by healthcare staff since the beginning of the crisis.
Whilst some practices have chosen to put risk assessments in place, these have been deemed largely ineffective.
The Doctors’ Association UK reported that “where risk assessments have taken place, DAUK has been told by frontline doctors again and again that nothing has been put in place to modify the personal risk to them as BAME frontline healthcare workers”.
It is appalling that doctors are continuing to raise these issues and the Conservative Government continually fails to address them.
Health Minister Helen Whately MP told me in July this year that “The NHS has put in place an action plan to support black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) staff through the pandemic. This includes risks assessment processes to protect staff.”
As long as this denial of obvious issues persists, the risk to BAME healthcare staff will continue. My report has evidenced the need for serious action from all public bodies; the NHS, the Government and the EHRC must learn from this report and take action now.
I have joined EveryDoctor in writing to the EHRC, following the release of my report, to call for this inquiry. Without identifying the areas for improvement and the contributing factors in hundreds of healthcare worker deaths we will inevitably see the same situation unfold again.
Abena Oppong-Asare is the Labour MP for Erith and Thamesmead.