In his outgoing speech, the president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists talked about the importance of tackling racism in the NHS
“Tackling racism in the workplace is key to recruiting and retaining psychiatrists and other health practitioners. Let me be clear: there is absolutely no place for racism in today’s society. It is a stain on the NHS. It damages mental health and makes existing mental illness worse. It destroys lives – the lives of patients and colleagues." Dr Adrian James, outgoing president, Royal College of Psychiatrists
Racism is a ‘stain on the NHS,’ the outgoing president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists has said.
In his farewell speech at the College’s international congress in Liverpool, Dr Adrian James said that tackling racism is key to recruiting staff, and that the NHS has a moral and legal duty to do more to stamp out racism.
James, who has been in the role three years, told the congress: “Institutional racism is rife in society and the NHS is not immune. We see its pernicious effects on colleagues who are leaving the NHS in droves.
“Tackling racism in the workplace is key to recruiting and retaining psychiatrists and other health practitioners. Let me be clear: there is absolutely no place for racism in today’s society. It is a stain on the NHS. It damages mental health and makes existing mental illness worse. It destroys lives – the lives of patients and colleagues.
“The NHS has a moral, ethical and legal duty to do much more to stamp out racism in all its forms.”
The College has launched a campaign, Act Against Racism, calling on mental health employers across the UK to tackle racism in the workplace by adopting 15 actions. These include changes to leadership, accountability and access to opportunities. The guidance from the College includes practical examples of how to address institutional and interpersonal racism. James said the guide “provides clear, measurable actions for employers and implementation guidance. It shows employers how to recognise and respond to instances of discrimination on racial and ethnic grounds and signposts them to sources of support within and outside their own organisation.”
NHS data shows that doctors from minority ethnic backgrounds are paid 7% less on average than comparable white colleagues. The NHS Medical Workforce Race Equality Standard report (PDF) also found doctors from minority ethnic backgrounds make up 41.9% of the medical workforce in England but just 20.3% of medical directors. In 2022, the Mental Welfare Commission Scotland found that almost a third of doctors reported they had seen or experienced racism directed at their NHS colleagues.
A survey by the College has also found that 58% of doctors from minority ethnic backgrounds said they had faced racism at work. Of those, 29% said it affected their health and 41% said it had an impact on patients or carers.
Last month, the NHS Race and Health Observatory, which investigates racial and ethnic disparities in health and social care based, said that better anti-racism policies could boost the NHS workforce.
It called for “better care, training and anti-racist policies” to enhance staff numbers in the NHS, and said this would “improve patient experience and save millions of pounds spent annually on addressing racism claims brought by staff, clinicians and patients”.
In a final blogpost for the College, James also reflected on other issues facing the mental health sector. Writing about the problem of out-of-area placements for mental health patients, he wrote: This unacceptable practice – sending patients hundreds of kilometres away from their homes and families – has been happening for decades. It risks patients’ mental health to such a degree that they often remain in hospital for longer.
“Government must keep its promise to put a stop to this practice. Patients should be offered effective alternatives to hospital admission so they can receive help earlier, from the right specialist, for their specific needs, instead of being sent out of area for treatment.”
Referring to the strike action by some NHS consultants, James wrote: “The NHS consultant workforce, including the psychiatry workforce, has been under immense pressure for years. Consultant psychiatrists, in common with other consultants, have worked tirelessly before, during and since the pandemic, to keep NHS services running with inadequate resources.”
He said, however, that it was not the role of the professional body to advise consultants whether to take strike action.
We’re pleased to see Dr Adrian James raise this important issue in his leaving speech to the Royal College of Psychiatrists. The NHS is dependent on the valuable work of Black and ethnic minority staff, and it is shocking that in 2023 they are still subject to racism. It’s also good that the College is taking positive steps to address this through its Act Against Racism campaign. Tackling racism will make the NHS a better place to work and will also improve recruitment and retention at a time when the service is facing workforce shortages.