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NHS 'Must Do More to Stamp Out Racism', Expert Says

Racism is a "stain" on the NHS and the health service has a moral, ethical, and legal duty to do more to stamp it out, the outgoing president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists warned today.

Tackling it is key to recruiting and retaining psychiatrists and other health practitioners, Dr Adrian James said at the college's international congress in Liverpool. Problems linked to racism include pay gaps, disparities in disciplinary processes, and a "glass ceiling" for doctors from minority ethnic backgrounds who want to progress into management positions, he noted.

Last month, the NHS Race and Health Observatory — formed in 2021 to examine disparities in health and social care based on race — said better anti-racism policies could boost the NHS workforce. The organisation called for "better care, training and anti-racist policies" to enhance staff numbers in the NHS, and said this would "improve patient experience and save millions of pounds spent annually on addressing racism claims brought by staff, clinicians, and patients".

The Royal College of Psychiatrists has launched a new campaign calling on mental health employers across the UK to take a number of practical steps in areas of leadership, accountability, and access to opportunities, to tackle racism in the workplace.

"Pernicious" Effects of Racism on NHS Staff

In his farewell speech on Monday after 3 years in the role, Dr James said, "Institutional racism is rife in society and the NHS is not immune. We see its pernicious effects on colleagues who are leaving the NHS in droves. It can be seen in the unfair ethnic pay gaps, in the disparities in disciplinary processes, and in the glass ceiling that stops doctors from minoritised ethnic backgrounds securing management positions.

Dr James added that tackling racism in the workplace is also important to recruit and retain psychiatrists and other healthcare professionals.

"Let me be clear: there is absolutely no place for racism in today's society. It is a stain on the NHS. It damages mental health and makes existing mental illness worse. It destroys lives — the lives of patients and colleagues. The NHS has a moral, ethical, and legal duty to do much more to stamp out racism in all its forms."

Health Harms for Minority Ethnic Doctors

A recent survey by the college found more than half of doctors from minority ethnic backgrounds (58%) said they had faced racism at work. More than a quarter (29%) of those said it affected their health and four in 10 (41%) said it had an impact on patients or carers.

Dr James added that the college's guidance on how to tackle racism in the workplace "will help every mental health employer in the UK to act against racism at a strategic and systemic level. It provides clear, measurable actions for employers and implementation guidance. It shows employers how to recognise and respond to instances of discrimination on racial and ethnic grounds, and signposts them to sources of support within and outside their own organisation."

An NHS spokesperson said in a statement: "Any form of abuse, including racism, is completely unacceptable and NHS England recently published the first ever equality, diversity, and inclusion improvement plan as part of the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan to ensure NHS organisations continually improve the experience of our diverse workforce — which in turn improves care for patients."