NHS Scotland must tackle the racism that is driving Black and Asian doctors to quit – Dr Raj Padmanabhan

Our NHS needs to be a better place to work for all of its staff. Yes, that includes pay. It includes a better work-life balance. It includes more staff and an improved workload.

The NHS need to be a better place to work for everyone (Picture: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
The NHS need to be a better place to work for everyone (Picture: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

And one of the most important things for me is inclusivity – there can be no doubt of the importance of this issue, both to help doctors themselves deal with prejudice and discrimination they are facing, but also for the long-term good of the NHS and its workforce.

Speaking personally and for many of my colleagues, I am afraid the experience of racism and discriminatory behaviour remains all too common.

First and foremost, this behaviour and some of the barriers that non-white doctors face is simply wrong: we must condemn it and tackle it as a moral imperative.

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But it is also a real concern that, at a time when we are short of doctors and at risk of losing more to burnout and exhaustion, discriminatory behaviour will push more vital staff out of the NHS.

To be clear, these are doctors we simply cannot afford to lose given the challenges our NHS faces to fully recover from the past two years – not to mention the problems we faced pre-pandemic.

It is for both these reasons that the evidence around the ongoing prevalence of discriminatory behaviour is so worrying.

A recent survey carried out by the BMA found that in the past two years 29 per cent of Black and Asian doctors have considered leaving the profession, and more than one in ten have quit, as a result of their experiences. Treating staff badly or discriminating against them will only harm recruitment and retention when we need as many doctors and nurses as we can get.

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In my capacity as chair of BMA Scotland’s Race Equality Forum, this is something that is particularly close to my heart. It pains me to hear that my non-white colleagues are more likely to have to make multiple applications for posts before being successfully appointed, and that they are twice as likely to experience or witness unequal treatment in the workplace.

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There are steps we can take to ensure our NHS is an inclusive environment for all – working with medical schools to include specific teaching elements on diverse treatments for different racial groups, developing local sessions for staff on race equality, unconscious bias and active bystander interventions, and engaging with local employers to create forums or support groups for race issues, among other things.

There is no doubt we have a long way to go to truly make the NHS a better place to work for everyone – and root out bad behaviours, racism and discrimination for good – but it must be done.

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It cannot, and should not, be tolerated at any level. Indeed, this is for our patients as well as our staff – how can we expect them to feel comfortable, safe and at ease in our hospital and care settings if many of our own staff do not?

I, along with my colleagues, will work tirelessly to pursue improvement and make sure this stays at the top of key people’s agenda.

Dr Raj Padmanabhan is a consultant anaesthetist and the first chair of the BMA Scotland Race Equality Forum

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