Damning BMA report warns of 'unconscious racism' in NHS

Black and minority ethnic (BME) doctors are more likely to fear being unfairly blamed for mistakes, to think bullying and harassment is a problem, and to lack a sense of support at work, a damning BMA report reveals.

BME doctors face 'unconscious racism' (Photo: iStock.com/solstock)
BME doctors face 'unconscious racism' (Photo: iStock.com/solstock)

BME doctors are almost twice as likely as white doctors to say they do not feel feel confident raising concerns about patient care, the BMA poll of almost 8,000 of its members found. A total of 14% of BME doctors said they would not feel confident raising concerns, compared with 8% of white doctors.

Fears of being blamed unfairly or suffering adverse consequences for reporting concerns were greater among BME doctors than among their white counterparts, with 57% of BME doctors concerned about this compared with 48% of white doctors.

The BMA warned that this was likely to be a direct result of the fact that BME doctors are significantly more likely to face GMC investigations than white doctors.

Unconscious racism

The union said its findings showed clearly that BME doctors 'remain disadvantaged by the NHS', and warned that BME doctors had reported experiencing 'unconscious racism in everything from job progression to training and patient interaction'.

BMA chair and north London GP Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: 'BME doctors make up more than a third of the medical workforce and play a vital role, day in day out, delivering care to patients across the country. Yet despite their commitment they’re more likely to face referral to the GMC, are more likely to have their cases investigated and are more likely to face harsh sanctions following an investigation. Only 7% of very senior managers are from BME backgrounds.

'BME staff in the NHS workforce as a whole are more likely to experience bullying, harassment or abuse from other staff. Differential achievement in exams and poorer career progression are another worrying factor, and with independent research showing that this is not related to any lack of ability. In the 21st century, that is not acceptable.'

The GMC launched a review this year into why BME doctors are more likely to face fitness to practise investigations, after finding that between 2012 and 2016, 10.2% of BME doctors had a complaint made to the GMC about them compared with 8.8% of all white doctors.

GMC investigation

A GMC report in 2016 found that BME doctors 'face unconscious bias and are significantly less likely to pass exams than their white counterparts'.

More than one in six BME doctors (18%) said there was often a problem with bullying, undermining and harassment in their workplace, compared with 7% of white doctors, the BMA survey found. However, only 49% of  BME doctors said they would feel confident reporting bullying - compared with 61% of white doctors.

There were also huge gaps between BME and white doctors in terms of their perception of inclusion at work. Just 55% of BME doctors said there was respect for diversity and a culture of inclusion in their place of work, compared with 75% of white doctors, and 57% of BME doctors said there was effective teamworking in their workplace compared with 72% of white doctors.

An NHS England spokesperson said: 'While the NHS has made progress in increasing senior representation of people from BME groups in recent years, ensuring our workforce is more representative of the people we care for is good for both staff and patients.'

NHS England pointed to recent official data showing a rise in BME nurses and midwives in senior roles, a rise in numbers of very senior managers from BME backgrounds and evidence that 25 NHS trusts have at least three people from BME backgrounds on their boards.

The DHSC said that it had commissioned its own data on ethnicity pay 'to identify gaps ahead of announcing robust actions soon.'

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