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Thursday, December 17, 1998 Published at 12:10 GMT


Health

Drive to stamp out NHS racism

NHS staff are subjected to racist attacks

NHS employers are to be set targets to reduce incidents of racial harassment as part of a government campaign to stamp out racism in the health service.

Speaking at the National Black Healthcare Forum in London, Health Minister Alan Milburn said that both staff and patients who used racial abuse would risk proseuction as part of a zero tolerance approach.

Mr Milburn was launching the new action plan "Tackling racial harassment in the NHS".

He said it was "the most concerted drive the NHS has ever seen" on the issue".

Research from the Policy Studies Institute (PSI) about the prevalence of racial harassment inside the health service has shown that:

  • Sixty-six per cent of black nursing staff said they had difficulties with patients for ethnic reasons;
  • Fifty-eight per cent of Asian nursing staff said they had difficulties with patients for ethnic reasons;
  • Thirty-seven per cent of black nursing staff said they had difficulties with colleagues for ethnic reasons;
  • Thirty-seven per cent of Asian nursing staff said they had difficulties with colleagues for ethnic reasons;

The PSI study found that harassment takes a number of forms and that it has become accepted almost as part of the job by many black and ethnic minority staff.

Targets


[ image: Alan Milburn: Determined to stamp out racism]
Alan Milburn: Determined to stamp out racism
Under the government's action plan every NHS employer will be expected by April 2000 to be in a position to tackle racial harassment whether committed by staff or by patients.

Targets for reducing incidents will be set, and progress will be monitored.

A major public awareness campaign targeted at staff and patients alike will highlight the impact of racial harassment and the fact that it will not be tolerated in any NHS setting.

Black and ethnic minority staff will be given support to change harassment effectively.

Mr Milburn said: "Racial harassment and discrimination cannot be tolerated in a service that rightly prides itself on its intrinsic fairness. It is simply unacceptable for people who come to work to care for others to put up with discrimination and prejudice whether from patients, visitors or other staff.

"The NHS relies on its black and ethnic minority staff. Without them the health service would cease to function.

"As the biggest employer of black and ethnic minority staff in the country I am determined that the NHS will set an example for others to follow."

The new campaign will be overseen by a national strategic group.

The Institute of Health Services Management welcomed the government's initiative.

Deputy director Suzanne Tyler said: 'The NHS values all of its dedicated staff and no-one should have to feel it is part of their job to put up with any racist abuse. But, sadly, racism is a ugly part of our society as a whole and this is mirrored in the NHS.

'In particular, racist abuse of our nursing staff is worsening the acute shortage of nurses.'

Ms Tyler said it was vital that systems were set up to deal firmly and swiftly with abuse, and that legal action was taken where necessary. Posters and leaflets would not be enough, she warned.

The British Medical Association said there had been many incidents where hospital doctors and GPs had been exposed to racial harassment from both their colleagues and patients. Many regarded it as an occupational hazard, the BMA claimed.

It was vital that the health service fostered an environment and culture where staff have the support of their manager in taking action.

However, there was still much work to be done in improving education and training, not just amongst NHS staff, but ensuring that patients were aware of the problem and the effect it has on staff.

Secretary of the BMA, Dr Mac Armstrong said: _Racial harassment is a very real problem in the NHS. It causes unnecessary stress and upset to staff and it is not before time that the Government is taking steps to address the issue._



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