Institutional racism exists in UK and healthcare, says head of NHS race body

Storm of criticism for government’s Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report continues

Shaun Lintern
Health Correspondent
Thursday 01 April 2021 18:24 BST
Black and ethnic minority NHS staff are more likely to face bullying and harassment
Black and ethnic minority NHS staff are more likely to face bullying and harassment (PA)

Institutional racism exists both in the UK and within the NHS, according to the independent NHS Race and Health Observatory.

In a strongly worded response to Wednesday’s controversial Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, the chair of the body said she was disappointed with its conclusions.

The NHS group was set up last year in response to widespread concerns over the disproportionate impact of coronavirus on ethnic minorities. It aims to investigate the links between race and health.

In a statement on Thursday, its chair Marie Gabriel said: “The observatory believes that tackling persistent ethnic and racial disparities in health, and across society, is absolutely the right thing to do.

“However, as an evidence-led organisation, the observatory was disappointed by several of the headline conclusions of the report, including those on the causes of ethnic inequalities.

“The evidence it cites is clear: institutional racism exists in this country, it exists in the organisations that make up our health and care system, and it exists across wider public establishments.”

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Downing Street is facing widespread criticism over the report, which boasted that the UK should be an example of multiculturalism to other white-majority countries and claimed there was not evidence for the claim institutional racism exists.

On health inequalities, it cited multiple reasons for differences between ethnic minorities, such as deprivation and other socio-economic factors, but downplayed the role played by structural racism on those same factors.

It described the NHS as a “success story” due to a diverse workforce, despite clear evidence ethnic minority staff are more likely to be bullied and harassed and less likely to be shortlisted for jobs.

Baroness Lawrence, who has dedicated nearly two decades to demanding justice after her son Stephen was murdered in a racist attack, has said the report gave “racists the green light”.

Boris Johnson’s most senior black adviser is expected to step down from his role next month after previously describing tensions within government as “unbearable”.

Downing Street has rejected the suggestion that Samuel Kasumu’s resignation was linked to the report.

Ms Gabriel said the NHS Race and Health Observatory would be producing a thorough analysis of the commission’s recommendations on health in the coming weeks.

She said several of its recommendations included work already started by the observatory.

She added: “Britain will never be a ‘successful multicultural community’ until it is an equal one.

“The observatory has been established to shine a light on discriminatory structures, and to gather evidence to support health and care organisations to rebuild those structures in a way that eradicates, rather than exacerbates, inequality.”

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