‘Concrete action’ needed to tackle racism in the NHS

“Concrete action” is needed to tackle racism in the NHS, health leaders have said.

And wider health inequalities need to be “as important to trust leaders as the size of waiting list”, NHS Providers said.

The comments come as the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) said that “now is the time to focus on race equality and equity”.

In a speech to the NHS Providers’ virtual annual conference, chief executive Chris Hopson said: “Over the last nine months, two seismic events have shone a bright light on inequalities in our nation.

“First we had Covid-19, with its disproportionate impact on people of colour. Then we had the murder of George Floyd, together with the Black Lives Matter protests it triggered. Both exposing the invidious impact of health inequalities and of structural racism on our staff, our patients and our communities.

“Structural racism is not new. But it is often misunderstood. These events are the latest in a series of ‘moments’ that have highlighted its all-pervasive and persistent impact. But this time, these events need to push us to take far-reaching action with a lasting impact.

“Perhaps it jars for me with my white, privileged, middle-class background, to be addressing these issues. But it is my business. Just as I think it is yours.

“We need an honest conversation about racism. The fact that it exists in our society, and in our NHS and that, without that honest conversation, we can’t move forward.

“It’s an uncomfortable conversation where many of us, as white leaders, are not sure how to proceed. Where we worry that we may say or do the wrong thing. Where we can feel like we are treading on egg shells.”

He added: “It’s important it’s ‘not just more words’. We need concrete action. At pace.

“And it’s not just cultural competence, it’s cultural interest. Ensuring colleagues from minority communities are fully valued. To enable them to feel psychologically safe.”

On wider health inequalities, he added: “Alongside tackling racism, we need to think more broadly about health inequalities.

“And we need to make tackling those health inequalities a much more central part of what we do.

“If we are to truly tackle health inequalities, this issue has to become as important to trust leaders as the size of waiting lists, the daily performance statistics or progress with cost improvement savings.”

The remarks come as the RCM opened its own annual conference with a call for greater equity and equality for those working in – and supported by – maternity services.

Gill Walton, chief executive of the RCM, told delegates: “For too long, we have tinkered at the edges of tackling race issues.

“Now is the time for us to focus on race equality and equity: the future must look different.

“It is unacceptable that black and Asian midwives and maternity support workers are more likely to experience bullying at work and face disciplinary processes and are less likely to advance in their careers. It’s time to level up.”