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Wednesday, 24 February, 1999, 17:14 GMT
NHS welcomes race scrutiny
Ward scene
The NHS is to come under scrutiny
Doctors leaders have welcomed the government's decision to clampdown on racism in the health service.

In direct response to the findings of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, Home Secretary Jack Straw announced he would extend the powers of the Race Relations Act to root out discrimination in the public services.

Mr Straw said: "That means in the Civil Service, the Immigration Service, in the NHS, the law will back those who have been the subject of discrimination."

The new law will allow the Commission for Racial Equality to investigate the work of the NHS along with that of other public services.

Dr Simon Fradd, chairman of the Doctor Patient Partnership, an organisation established by the British Medical Association and the Department of Health to improve public use of the NHS, said he was happy for the health service to be scrutinised.

Dr Fradd said: "I am quite happy with the proposals, racism is totally unacceptable and we should not be willing to allow it to occur in any sector of society, whether from organisations or individuals.

"Transparency can only be achieved by objective, independent scrutiny."

Dr Simon Fradd
Dr Simon Fradd welcomed
Dr Fradd said there was concern that NHS staff had suffered from racial discrimination even though an inquiry by the General Medical Council had found no evidence of racism within the health service.

A spokeswoman for the Institute of Health Services Management said there was a problem of racism in the NHS which needed to be tackled "urgently".

She said: "Of course the NHS should be subject to the full force of the Race Relations Act and should be open to the same level of investigation and scrutiny of race issues as any other public body."

Admission of racism

The BMA admitted earlier this week that the NHS does suffer from "institutionalised racism".

Dr Jane Richards, who chaired the BMA's working party on racial equality, said the problem of racism had plagued the health service for decades.

She said health care professionals were racist to patients, and patients racist to NHS staff.

Dr Richards said: "Racism affects all parts of the NHS - doctors, managers, nurses. But some of it comes from patients towards staff.

"It isn't just a case of the NHS being bad, unfortunately it's a two-way business.

"The NHS has faced the problem, is aware of it and is being very up front about it. And that's very important."

Dr Richards said she had seen patients make judgements based on ethnic background.

"During the years I've worked in the NHS I've heard patients say 'Oh, I don't want that midwife to look after me'. It's that sort of thing that hurts," she said.

However, racism can manifest itself through doctors' attitudes too, she said.

"I'm afraid that sometime the handling of a patient's treatment is not so good - people are sometimes treated less kindly.

"We also have the very big problem of how far we go to meet the needs of people from ethnic minorities who have difficulties explaining their problems.

"How much do we take into consideration their ethnic backgrounds? How much do we consider their difficulties with the language?

"We aren't perfect. This is honest, and honesty on this issue is important."

Studies show racist career structure

Dr Sam Everington, a GP in North London, has carried out studies to gauge the extent of racism within the medical profession.

His research suggests that racism permeates every step of the medical career ladder.

One of his studies indicated that medical school applicants with European sounding names had a better chance of getting an interview than those with Asian sounding names.

Another found that top consultants were at least three times as likely to get a merit award if they were white.

A merit award is worth up to 58,525 on top of a 61,605 salary.

A third revealed that black doctors were six times more likely to be disciplined by the General Medical Council.

The NHS Equal Opportunities Unit drew up an action plan to tackle racial harassment last November following a speech by then Health Minister Alan Milburn, who called for "zero tolerance" of racism in every part of the health service.

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