Asian staff called ‘sl**ted-eyed blokes’ as racism reported at large NHS trust

A review of bullying and culture at University Hospitals of North Midlands has found the highest levels of bullying and harassment were reported among doctors

Rebecca Thomas
Health Correspondent
Wednesday 06 April 2022 18:30 BST
60 per cent of Black and minority ethnic staff reporting bullying said it was related to their ethnicity
60 per cent of Black and minority ethnic staff reporting bullying said it was related to their ethnicity (Getty Images)

Bullying among doctors at a large NHS trust was most likely to be due to race, an external review found, after Asian staff were reportedly referred to as “sl**ted-eyed blokes”.

An independent review of bullying and culture at the University Hospitals of North Midlands trust (UHNM) found that the highest levels of bullying and harassment were reported among doctors.

The review comes after hundreds of senior doctors raised concerns over bullying to the trust’s leaders in June last year. UHNM commissioned researcher and author of the “snowy white peaks” report into discrimination in the NHS, Roger Kline, to carry out the review, with charity Brap, in response to concerns.

The reviewers found that one in 10 staff had reported that they had experienced bullying at the trust, and of these, 60 per cent of black and minority ethnic staff overall said the bullying was due to their ethnicity. Reviewers said this was not out of kilter with the broader picture in the NHS, but that it was higher than they would have expected.

Within this, doctors were most likely to say that bullying was due to their ethnicity, with 47 per cent reporting this.

One-third of those participating in the review suggested that ethnicity-based discrimination was a specific problem at the trust, which reviewers found evidence of to a “significant degree”.

One part of the report read: “During the course of this review, we have heard of Chinese people being referred to as ‘sl**ted-eyed blokes’ or ‘Mrs Ching-chang-chong’, Asian people being called ‘dog-eaters’, and Travellers being referred to as ‘dirty g***s’. Most of these incidents have occurred in the last three/four years, although it is not entirely clear precisely when.

“A small number of participants separately expressed some concern regarding their colleagues’ attitudes towards prejudice and racism in particular.”

Other examples of bullying included people feeling “pressured” or “told” to come to work during the pandemic. One staff member reported: “I was ‘managed’ into situations that I was destined to fail, despite telling my manager and consultants how I felt … I was unsupported during Covid. I didn’t sleep properly for weeks and worked 35 days straight (most unpaid weekends). Senior management suggested that as this person was retiring soon, not to pursue.”

Reviewers also said a small proportion of doctors had suggested that, if racism or “inter-ethnic conflict” arose, it was most likely to occur among black and minority ethnic staff.

It added: “There is some suggestion, based on medical staff’s feedback, that some of the bullying/harassment they feel they face is linked to their status as internationally trained professionals. A large number in this category felt not only is there suspicion regarding their qualifications and expertise, but they are also more likely to suffer racism than UK-born BME colleagues.”

According to the report, “many” senior leaders at the trust attributed tensions among doctors to “inter-ethnic cultural factors, most commonly animosity between Pakistani and Indian doctors or those from Muslim and Hindu backgrounds”.

A high proportion of staff reported difficulties in raising concerns about bullying and harassment, with 28 per cent saying they felt unable to do so – a proportion reviewers said was higher than expected.

Among the most frequent comments in respect of why concerns weren’t reported, staff said it was because they were “belittled” when reports were made and felt that “nothing ever changes”.

In one example, a staff member said they “feel ashamed, a failure, embarrassed that the confident person for which I was once known had become weak and soft. Unable to stand up for myself, putting my job and hence my family life at risk.”

Doctors also reported having to deal with “micro-aggressions” and poor behaviour such as people talking over each other in meetings or criticising work in public.

In response to questions about bullying by patients, nursing and midwifery staff reported the highest levels, with 10 per cent saying they’d been bullied on three or more occasions.

Doctors, however, most commonly reported that bullying by patients was related to their ethnicity, with examples such as patients asking to see a white doctor or saying they were “not happy to see dark skin people” and saying they were British so “did not want other ethnicities to touch them and do anything for them”.

Reviewers said some of the white British staff had suggested the trust was “scared of talking about race”, adding that they “felt this explained why the behaviour of some BME individual colleagues has been allowed to persist”.

Dr Matthew Lewis, medical director at University of North Midlands Hospitals Trust said: “We take these matters very seriously and, after taking action to commission the independent report, we have already made progress on behalf of our workforce to tackle the issues highlighted including investment in a fulltime Freedom to Speak Up Guardian.

“We will not tolerate any form of discrimination, bullying or harassment within UHNM and will continue to work with Brap and Roger Kline to ensure that everyone who works in our hospitals is treated with respect and has the opportunity to develop a fulfilling career.”

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