'Mark of shame'

Unite slams ‘bullying culture’ in NHS after staff survey reveals BAEM workers more likely to be discriminated against and bullied

Reading time: 6 min

Despite Black and Asian ethnic minority (BAEM) NHS staff playing a leading role in the battle against coronavirus, they have endured increasing levels of workplace discrimination and bullying, according to a new survey.

The latest NHS Staff Survey, which is conducted every year and this year was completed by nearly 600,000 workers in the health service, revealed that more than 16 per cent of BAEM staff said they were discriminated against by a manager, team leader or other colleague, up from just over 14 per cent last year.

Meanwhile, only 6.2 per cent of white staff reported the same, up from 6 per cent last year.

Over the last year, nearly a third of BAEM NHS staff – 28.8 per cent — said they had been bullied, harassed or abused at work by colleagues, up slightly from last year’s rate of 28.4 per cent.

A significant minority of BAEM staff – almost one in three – said they did not believe the NHS provided equal opportunities, compared to just under 15 per cent of white staff who believed the same.

The survey also revealed a disparity in how BAEM and white staff felt about safety at work. More than 67 per cent of white staff said they felt able to speak up about safety concerns at work, whereas only 62 per cent of BAEM staff felt the same.

The treatment of BAEM staff as highlighted in the survey is especially shocking given how much they have sacrificed throughout the pandemic.

An analysis published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) in January highlighted the fact that while BAEM staff represent 21 per cent of the NHS workforce, BAEM workers accounted for 63 per cent of deaths among health workers.

It may not be surprising then that the NHS Staff Survey found that BAEM staff were much more likely to work in Covid wards or Covid specific areas – 47 per cent at any point over the last year — compared to just 31 per cent of white staff.

Almost one in four BAEM health workers – 23 per cent – reported being redeployed at any given time during the pandemic, compared to just 17 per cent of white staff.  

The survey results chime with accounts of BAEM health workers and previous surveys.

Last year, the Nursing Times revealed how many nurses said they felt they were being “targeted” to work on Covid wards more so than their white counterparts.

Meanwhile, last summer, an ITV News survey found that 50 per cent of BAEM health care workers directly blamed ‘systemic racism’ at work for the disproportionate levels of BAEM NHS staff deaths from coronavirus.

Commenting on the latest NHS Staff Survey, Unite national officer for health Jackie Williams said, “This report is a searing indictment of a bullying culture that urgently needs to be addressed by health and social care secretary Matt Hancock.

 “It is truly shocking that this culture has been allowed to flourish when the NHS staff are caring for Covid-19 patients on a daily basis,” she added.

 “The fact that BAEM NHS staff are more likely to be discriminated against and bullied is a mark of shame, given the very real sacrifices they have made during the pandemic.”

Other worrying findings from the survey highlighted the potential of a coming mass exodus of NHS staff who are burned out and unhappy with their pay.

Almost a fifth of NHS staff polled said they were considering leaving the health service, with only 36 per cent of NHS staff overall saying they were ‘satisfied’ or ‘very satisfied’ with their pay. Of the nurses and midwives surveyed, only one in three – 33 per cent — said they were satisfied with their pay, a drop from 36 per cent last year.

After the government announced last week that it would be recommending a measly one per cent pay increase for NHS staff this year, Unite warned that pay is a major factor that will drive many NHS workers to leave the service at a time when there are more than 100,000 vacancies in the NHS.

“The NHS will be a pale shadow of the great Covid-fighting health service we know and love in five years’ time, if the insulting one per cent pay recommendation is not dramatically revised upwards by ministers,” said Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail last week.

 “NHS staff are exhausted after a year of tireless caring for patients during the pandemic – and many are now prepared to leave the health service after a decade of pay austerity which has seen pay packets for many shrink by 19 per cent in real terms,” she noted.

 “The one per cent recommendation could be the last straw for many dedicated staff.

 “The NHS already has an estimated 100,000 vacancies, including 40,000 nursing posts – and a massive backlog of non-Covid procedures, such as cancer treatments.

 “The NHS’ ‘recruitment and retention’ crisis is very real – and a decent pay rise will go some way in addressing this issue.”

By Hajera Blagg

Related Articles