Managing discrimination from patients and their guardians and relatives

Steps for employers

Location: UK
Audience: All doctors
Last reviewed: 1 March 2022
Topics: Equality, diversity and inclusion

Employers should take all reasonable steps to protect their employees from harassment or abuse.

You should:

  • have clear notices on premises and on websites that unlawful discriminatory behaviour is not acceptable
  • support workers by giving guidance on how to respond when faced with an abusive patient
  • have mechanisms in place so workers can report it and access support after any distressing event, including liaison with police and legal action when appropriate
  • review your policies and mechanisms for supporting your employees in dealing with racial or other forms of abuse and the reporting and recording of cases of bullying, harassment and discrimination by patients, their families and other third parties, such as contractors
  • make clear in notices and communications with patients that such behaviour is not acceptable
  • make it explicit in zero-tolerance policies for violence that these also cover discrimination from patients (and their guardians/relatives) against healthcare workers
  • create a specific zero-tolerance policy for unlawful discrimination against healthcare workers
  • take steps actively and publicly - such as displaying posters across NHS premises - highlighting its zero-tolerance approach to discrimination
  • consider how harassment may operate outside of the physical workplace environment, via communications online and in social media platforms
  • these situations should also be covered in the policies and how to protect employees
  • put in place safeguarding protocols to explicitly include sexual harassment and harassment related to protected characteristics
  • provide wellbeing support for workers after distressing events
  • provide bystander training for all staff members to be able to effectively respond when discriminatory behaviours are presented by patients (and their guardians/relatives), to give confidence to all members of staff to report incidents of discrimination they witness.