Scotland needs to talk about racism towards NHS staff – Dr Punam Krishan

Dr Punam Krishan has heard many stories from healthcare professionals in Scotland about encountering discrimination from patients and colleagues (Picture: John Devlin)
Dr Punam Krishan has heard many stories from healthcare professionals in Scotland about encountering discrimination from patients and colleagues (Picture: John Devlin)
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Dr Punam Krishan says NHS Scotland needs to work out whether there is a problem with racism after an incident in which a patient objected to the idea of being seen by an “Asian doctor”, only to be silenced by the surgery’s receptionist.

Patient: “I don’t want an Asian doctor.”

Receptionist: “She is Scottish.”

Patient: “She doesn’t look Scottish.”

Receptionist: “What do Scottish people look like?”

Silence. Appointment card taken. So proud of my team.

After I wrote a message on Twitter about this exchange, it went a bit viral, with more than 66,000 likes and 11,000 retweets.

Many people asked if I was happy about the tweet doing so well. To be frank, I was just so pleased to read the incredible support in the face of what was a bitter experience. I also celebrated the fact that my receptionist, Catherine, stood by me shoulder to shoulder, demonstrating that we are equals in every way and we are a team that serve together.

I decided to share this experience on the back of a meeting I had with Roger Kline, a research fellow from Middlesex University Business School, who was awarded an OBE for his work in raising awareness about discrimination, bullying and unfair treatment at work.

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Much of the evidence we have about racism is from NHS England and we discussed the importance of transparency and data gathering in Scotland to see if it is a problem here.

Some of you may remember my article in The Scotsman on GP burnout last year. Whilst there was much support for the message that GPs are also human and require kindness and compassion, there was also an incredible amount of racism and misogynistic remarks in the online comments section.

It was so distressing that the comments had to be suspended. It left a lot of hurt because I’m just a young woman with a kid who has worked so hard to be a doctor; a career she chose and loves because it serves the community she belongs to.

Since then, I have heard many stories of healthcare professionals in Scotland who have encountered some form of discrimination from both colleagues and patients. It is saddening to say the least.

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During our round-table discussion with Roger Kline, hosted by the British Medical Association Scotland, we discussed about the importance of good leadership and leading by example because how staff are treated doesn’t just affect their personal health and well-being, it also has cost implications on the organisation and affects the quality and safety of care that health staff provide to their patients.

It is crucial that we start conversations and, much like the way that Catherine did, we need to give people food for thought.

We need to challenge their belief systems and help them see that underneath, we are all humans doing what we need to do to make a difference, hopefully a positive one.

Organisations that are diverse and inclusive are likely to be more innovative, creative, productive, provide better care and have higher staff engagement levels. Surely this in itself is as good a reason if nothing else?

Punam Krishan is a GP and is on Twitter @drpunamkrishan