Race Matters

There Then, Here Now: BME people & the NHS

Runnymede hosted a webinar on Windrush Day (22nd June) entitled There Then, Here Now: BME people and the NHS. Here, Runnymede’s Research and Policy Assistant Nick Treloar, summarises some highlights from the hour-long discussion.

> Watch the hour-long webinar There then, here now: BME people and the NHS here <

The online event highlighted both the contributions of black and minority ethnic (BME) people to the NHS, past and present. A major factor in the discussion was the racism faced by ethnic minority NHS staff both then and now, including hostility in the workplace; the lack of a pathway to promotion and leadership and the effects of the Hostile Environment immigration policy. The webinar was made all the more pertinent following the disproportionate deaths from Covid-19 of BME people generally, and particularly NHS frontline workers. 

The webinar, chaired by Runnymede’s Interim Director Dr Zubaida Haque, featured Dr Stephanie Snow, University of Manchester and historian of Medicine and Healthcare, Professor Linda McDowell, University of Oxford and author of Migrant Women’s Voices, Yvonne Coghill, Deputy President at the Royal College of Nurses and Director for the implementation of WRES in NHS England, and Helen Hayes, MP for Dulwich and West Norwood. 

Speakers gave us their perspectives on the the barriers, including structural racism, that continue to plague the lived experiences of BME staff in the NHS.

In a rich Q&A section, contributors also shared their own stories, including the following comments:

  • “Black nurses are constantly bypassed for promotion. There’s still institutional racism - just look at the management structure of NHS trusts!”
  • “My Mom came as a qualified nurse. Worked in NHS for a while, but could never get promoted and was informed no white nurse would take instructions from a Black nurse”
  • “BME have a long legacy of supporting and developing the NHS against a backdrop of a society that tried to tighten immigration control and discriminate against them.”
  • “In the 100 year history of the Society of Radiographers, there have only been 2 African-heritaged members of UK Council. One male & one female. I am the only African-Caribbean female council member the SoR have ever had.”
  • “I'm a GP trainee and there is so much systematic racism in medical education, any advice on how to start dismantling this inherent bias in medical education as a trainee?”

The honesty of the participants highlighted the real struggles that still face NHS BME workers. Still today, in 2020, BME NHS workers from across the spectrum, in a variety of different roles, explained how they have been held back because of the colour of their skin, prevented from progressing and on countless occasions have had patients refuse to be treated by them. 

The event highlighted that the racial disparities that still infect every corner of our society are felt by those who we need the most; those for whom we spent weeks clapping on our doorsteps.

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