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BME staff are more likely to face bullying

21 October 2014 - 1:37pm

Staff working in the NHS who have black and minority ethnic backgrounds are more likely than their white counterparts to be bullied or disciplined.


Chair of the NHS BME network Vivienne Lyfar-Cisse

They are also less likely to be promoted or get a job soon after qualifying.

That was the message delivered to members of the CSP’s BME network on 16 October. Delegates heard from two prominent figures who are pressing the NHS to ensure that BME employees are valued and are treated fairly.

The first speaker was Roger Kline, a research fellow at Middlesex University London, who used the term ‘snowy white peaks’ in a report published earlier this year to draw attention to the dominance of white people in top positions in all parts of the NHS.

He was followed by Vivienne Lyfar-Cisse, a biochemist who helped to set up and now chairs the NHS BME network, which was launched in 2010 and has several thousand members.

Mr Kline dismissed previous attempts to improve the lot of BME workers in the health service as ‘pusillanimous pledges’. Staff were ‘in many ways worse off’ than they were a decade ago, he said.

By drilling down into statistics it was possible to show, for example, that one trust in south east England drew up shortlists in which 78 per cent of applicants were white, but made appointments in which 86 per cent of people were white.

‘What this means is that you are 1.7 times more likely as a white person to be appointed when shortlisted than a BME person,’ he said.

Mr Kline said CSP activists could use such data to prove that ‘you are not the only one’ affected by discriminatory practices. Importantly, he said it was now possible to show that the knock-on effects included employees opting for early retirement or instigating grievance procedures, while services were blighted by high rates of staff turnover and poor levels of morale.

‘Race discrimination makes you ill,’ he said.

But as well as being bad for the individuals directly affected, the situation was also bad for patients. Staff facing discrimination are less likely to admit to mistakes or raise concerns about poor practice, he suggested.

Dr Lyfar-Cisse said that she had always felt supported at work and had been treated equally. It came as a shock to her, therefore, when she talked to some nurses from Ghana and South Africa who had recently joined the trust where she worked on the south coast of England.

To her horror, she discovered they were housed in poor conditions with no running hot water. But when she raised her concerns, she was cold-shouldered. ‘When I took up the race agenda I became a target. I was told it would ruin my career,’ she said.

As a result of her experience, Dr Lyfar-Cisse went on to launch a network for BME staff working in south east England, which paved the way for the creation of the national organisation. She said she understood why some BME staff might be reticent about ‘raising their head above the parapet’ but stressed that it was vital to change the status quo by forging links and supporting each other.

‘It’s not my voice, it’s our voice,’ she added.

Sue Rees, CSP president, told delegates that the presentations had made her determined to be ‘more overtly inclusive’. There was a large Somali population in her home area in south Wales - the largest outside Somalia - but they were likely to treated by white staff. The NHS should reflect the diversity of its catchment area, she said.

‘When we see reflections of ourselves, it makes us feel more comfortable.’

  • Earlier this year, the CSP signed a letter with other organisations to the prime minister voicing concerns that there had been no significant progress for the 170,000 BME staff over the past decade. Research conducted by the CSP in the wake of a motion at this year’s annual representative conference shows that non-white physios are under-represented in all pay bands above 6 in England, with the exception of band 8d.

Further work on this topic will include issuing a paper for stewards on negotiating with employers to collect, analyse and act on equality data.

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