Health conference vows to fight the disease of racism in the NHS

Brexit is fuelling the discrimination against migrant workers, delegates are told

Racism continues to be a problem in the NHS, with Brexit fuelling the problem, health delegates heard today.

One Black member told the UNISON health conference in Brighton that racism was “the disease in the system”.

And another delegate, from Spain, spoke of the thousands of NHS workers who were already fleeing the UK because they no longer feel welcome.

Shortly after a debate which celebrated the NHS’s 70th anniversary – and especially the diversity of its workforce – delegates were brought back to Earth with a bump by reminders of how that workforce is treated.

Conference highlighted the findings of the NHS Workforce Race Equality Standard report, published this year, that Black staff remain “significantly more likely to experience discrimination at work from colleagues and their managers.”

The report also says that staff from these backgrounds had less faith in their trust offering equal career progression than white colleagues.

Karen Reissman of the health service group executive told delegates: “The NHS today would not be the same without migrant workers. But mainstream politicians talk of immigration as a problem rather than something to be celebrated. And Brexit is making it worse.”

Joan Pons Laplana, a Spanish nurse from East Coast health said: “This government is sending out a racist message to the rest of the world. And people don’t feel welcome coming here.

“Many of my European colleagues chose England to have their careers. Now 10,000 of them have already gone back to Europe. That makes me very sad, because it affects the care we give people.

“I wish we had more British nurses but we don’t. The future looks very bleak.”

Eddyna Danso, of Guys & St Thomas’s branch in London, joined the NHS in 1973, a time when racism was openly expressed, even on television.

“I thought we would have moved a long way from then,” she said. “But BME staff are still experiencing discrimination in the workplace.

“In the NHS we talk about the cancer in the system. All of us, Black and white, have to work at eradicating this disease. Racial discrimination destroys the human spirit.”

Meanwhile, the conference expressed its concern about the government’s plans to require hospital departments in England to check the paperwork of every patient before deciding whether they need to pay up front.

The move could damage the trust patients have with healthcare staff, including the union’s members. Conference declared that, “our members are here to make healthcare decisions, not act as immigration officials.”

Delegates agreed that the union must continue to raise awareness about the discrimination present within the NHS, and the actions health branches can take to campaign against it.

Guidance to branches includes the Challenging prejudice leaflet, and Challenging racism in the workplace toolkit and resources – for use in negotiation and bargaining around race equality in the workplace.

Conference called on the service group to:

  • fight to highlight the positive contribution that staff from across the world make to the NHS;
  • engage with health branches to contribute to the work of policy makers, ensuring trade union involvement in work to challenge racism;
  • raise concerns about the impact of proposed new charging regulations of overseas patients, making sure branches are aware of UNISON’s position;
  • highlight the damaging effect that discrimination at work has on Black staff.

Download: Challenging prejudice (leaflet)

Download: Challenging racism in the workplace guide for branches