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Raising awareness

The state of race relations in physiotherapy workplaces has improved over the years but there is potential to make it even better, black minority ethnic network members say.

October is Black History Month, which aims to promote knowledge of black history, highlight positive black contributions to British society and boost awareness among black people about their cultural heritage.

To mark the month, Frontline talked to physiotherapists involved in the CSP’s BME network about workplace race relations.

BME network founder member Patricia Odunmbaku Auty said race relations were now better than when she started working as a physiotherapist, about 30 years ago.

Now retired, Mrs Odunmbaku Auty, who is part Nigerian, part Irish, encountered racial prejudice early in her career.

‘I experienced the fact that people just saw my colour and thought I wasn’t intelligent enough to treat them,’ she said.

Race relations had particularly improved following changes in legislation, she said. Physiotherapists now had channels through which to lodge complaints about racial discrimination and were no longer accused of having a ‘chip on their shoulder’ if they did so.

‘Times have changed but there is room for improvement,’ Mrs Odunmbaku Auty said. ‘One of our biggest problems is that our profession still has one of the lowest intakes of black and ethnic minorities,’ she added.

CSP network convener Mel Stewart said the number of black physiotherapists had remained fairly constant over the past 30 years. ‘It’s important in the training of future physiotherapists that students and staff make themselves familiar with issues specific to understanding individuals’ backgrounds,’ Ms Stewart said.

Network member Eric Bandoo, who is Afro-Caribbean, knows what it is like to be the victim of racial stereotyping. While working as a nurse before he qualified as a physiotherapist in 2000, he was hit by a patient who launched a verbal racist attack on him.

He has never suffered such abuse as a physiotherapist, but has met subtle racial prejudice at work. When Mr Bandoo met patients for the first time, he sometimes detected a change in their expression and sensed they were not expecting to see a black physiotherapist.

For more information about Black History Month, visit

Black History Month was founded by Akyaaba Addai Sebbo, who was a special projects coordinator for the then Greater London Council. The first event was held on 1 October 1987. It is marked in October partly because the month signifies tolerance and reconciliation in Africa and is significant in the African cultural calendar. Thousands of events take place throughout Britain during the month. They include: Association of Dance of the African Diaspora exhibition, Moments: Black Dance in Britain from the 1930s to 1990s, opening on 26 October  at Theatre Museum, Covent Garden; Africa in Motion - Edinburgh African Film Festival, from 20 to 29 October; and a production of the play Master Juba, held at venues  in London and east England in October and November.

The CSP’s black minority ethnic network, which has more than 120 members, provides support and a discussion forum for black and minority ethnic physios. It contributes to policy debates on equality and diversity. Members of the network, which was created to increase involvement of black and minority ethnic members in the Society, receive newsletters and are invited to meetings. The body was set up after the Society’s equal opportunities working party identified in 1995 a need for member networks, in which physios in minority groups could discuss relevant issues.


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