Doctors consider high levels of racism in the NHS to be a ‘debilitating’ problem, finds largest survey of racism in medicine

by BMA media team

Press release from the BMA. 

Location: England
Last reviewed: 2 February 2022
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Today the BMA has shared interim findings from the Association’s Racism in Medicine survey and these reveal that doctors from all ethnic minority backgrounds consider racism a problem in the medical profession.

With over 2000 responses from doctors and medical students across the UK, the BMA believes the survey to be one of the largest of its kind on the experience of racism in the medical profession and workplace. Just over 90% of Black and Asian respondents, 73% Mixed and 64% of White respondents said racism in the medical profession is an issue.   

Ahead of the publication of the BMA’s full ‘Anti-Racism in Medicine report’, in Spring 2022, the Association is sharing headline findings which show a high level of racist incidences occurring within the health service.

  • 75.6% of the doctors surveyed experienced racism at least once in the last two years, with 17.4% experiencing these racist incidents on a regular basis.
  • The survey also shows a low-level of reporting for racist incidents, with 71% of doctors who experienced racism choosing not to report it to anyone due to a lack of confidence that the incident would be addressed or, and a fear they would be labelled ‘troublemakers’.
  • 20% who had experienced racism reported racist behaviour from patients.

The survey also exposes the wider implication of racist experiences with:

  • Nearly 20% of doctors said that they either considered leaving (13.8%) or left their job (5.6%) within the past two years due to race discrimination
  • Nearly 60% of doctors who experienced racism said that the incident had negatively impacted their wellbeing including causing depression, anxiety, and increased stress levels
  • 59.7%, Asian 57.3% Black, 45.1%, Mixed and 36.3% White non-British respondents saw racism as a barrier to career progression compared to just 4.2% of White British respondents.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA chair of council, said: “The results from this survey, though interim, show unacceptable levels of racism within the NHS which cannot be ignored.

“Doctors from ethnic minority backgrounds and those who qualified outside the UK but are registered to practice here, want to focus on caring for patients, without the burden of abuse that comes from demoralising and often debilitating experiences of racism in the workplace.

“The findings highlight the negative impact that racist experiences have on doctor retention, wellbeing, and career progression - an indisputable rebuttal to the government’s claims in its Sewell report that the NHS is a success story for ethnic minority doctors. Portraying the NHS as a success purely because of the numbers of staff from ethnic minority backgrounds employed within the service, shows little acknowledgement of the racist incidents that these staff members deal with on a regular basis. In fact, while this survey found low levels of reporting racist incidents it also showed that nearly six in 10 doctors (58.2%) found when they did report a racist incident it had a negative impact on them.

“These experiences of racism are clearly undermining the NHS’ ability to bring out the best in its workforce and there is no doubt that this will be having a knock-on effect on patient services.1 The GMC’s independent report into the wellbeing of doctors and medical students2 found abundant evidence that workplace stress in healthcare organisations affects quality of care for patients as well as doctors’ own health. It’s high time the conversation on race equality in the medical profession changes – reflects NHS staff’s lived experiences and seeks solutions. 

“Employers and the government have a duty of care to address the concerns of those who work within the health service. Decision-makers must get their heads out of the sand and act now. The BMA will be publishing its full report with recommendations this Spring which the Government must act on as a matter of priority.”

The BMA has also commissioned research to understand the barriers which hinder career progression of doctors from ethnic minority backgrounds.3 The interim findings from this research point towards the barriers including a Euro/Anglocentric bias in the medical profession – which in turn was found to be a career accelerator for White British doctors; systematic and systemic exclusion; bias in recruitment and selection processes; poor implementation of diversity, inclusion and equity projects - which results in discrimination not being tackled; and a lack of psychological safety.

Full findings from both will be published in a comprehensive ‘Anti-Racism in Medicine’ report this Spring. The report will outline the causes of race inequality in the health service, as well as identify the reasons why significant progress has not been made to tackle this unacceptable reality faced by ethnic minority doctors in their working lives. A series of recommendations will be made at the individual, organisational and societal level to ensure that the types of actions that need to be taken are targeted at the right level of organisation or individual who can effect that change, under the following themes:

  • Improving racial literacy
  • Being explicit about the need for change
  • Investment in root cause analysis and evaluation
  • Improving reporting processes
  • Increased accountability

Roger Kline, Research Fellow Middlesex University Business School, said: “These findings are shocking. There is now a wealth of research demonstrating the damage that discrimination and bullying does to staff health and wellbeing, impacting on staff sickness, turnover, productivity, effective team working and patient care and safety. It is simply unacceptable that such behaviours continue under the noses of NHS Trust Boards at a time when we have serious doctor shortages which such treatment will exacerbate.

“I hope this survey will move NHS organisations to urgently review their responses to racism and bullying, being proactive and preventative when data shows there is a problem, rather than waiting for individual doctors to raise concerns.  I also hope that every doctor and manager is crystal clear what their response should be when faced by racism from patients with a clear policy in place, robustly applied.”


Quotes from BMA Racism in Medicine Survey

A Consultant of Black, African background said: “Less confident to report such incidents again because no action was taken against the perpetrator. I feel uncomfortable and anxious of reprisals.”

A Junior Doctor of Mixed-Other ethnic background said: “I was called ‘headscarf b**ch’ by a patient.”

A Junior Doctor of Asian background said: “Working in A&E was a nightmare. Continued racist behaviour from patients and their relatives. Due to this, I have decided not to pursue a career in emergency medicine.”

A Junior Doctor of Pakistani background said: “When interacting with senior colleagues, I would notice that they were nicer and more helpful towards other junior doctors who were born in UK and were white. I would be clearly treated and spoken to differently.”

A Consultant of Indian background said: “I was not taken seriously. Emails were ignored. I was branded and suffered work related stress and hypertension. I think of leaving this job every day.”

A Consultant of Other ethnic background said: “A patient suggested I can be deported if they suffer post-op complications.”

Notes to editors

The BMA is a professional association and trade union representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.

  1. Racism which impacts healthcare staff endangers patient care
  2. Caring for doctors Caring for patients
  3. BMA collaborates on research into barriers to career progression