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NHS staff more likely to be bullied by patients and colleagues if disabled or of ethnic minority

NHS staff who are black or minority ethnic (BME) face more harassment, bullying and abuse by patients, patients‘ families, the public and other staff members, according to NHS England figures.

Around 30% of BME staff were harassed, bullied or abused by patients, patients‘ families or the public in 2022, compared to 26.8% of white staff. In the same year, 27% of BME staff experienced the same from colleagues, compared to 22% of white staff.

The figures have been released as part of the NHS workforce race equality standard 2023, which looks at how trusts are addressing race and inequalities.

NHS England said there was ‘continued evidence’ of ‘sustained improvement’ since 2016 when the first report was published, with the total number of BME staff at very senior manager level up 61.7% since 2018 (from 201 to 325).

However, it added there was still work to be done. Although the percentage of BME board members increased in all seven integrated care system (ICS) areas of England – in London, the Midlands, North East and Yorkshire, North West and South West – the gap in representation between board and workforce widened because the increase in BME representation was slower than the growth in the wider workforce.

The NHS workforce disability equality standard report 2023 was also published this week, which found that disability declaration rates by NHS staff had improved in 2023 by 19.9%. But, 33.2% of disabled staff reported experiences of bullying, harassment or abuse from patients, service users or the public. Some 16.1% reported this from managers and 24.8% from colleagues.

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Health secretary, Victoria Atkins, said: ‘I want to see the NHS recruit and retain brilliant people from all backgrounds. It is important that the NHS at all levels represents the people it cares for, and I welcome progress in appointing more black and minority ethnic staff to senior positions and better representation of disabled people in the NHS workforce.’

Deputy chief executive at NHS Providers, Saffron Cordery, said: ‘Trust leaders remain dedicated to improving working conditions for ethnic minority and disabled staff, but substantial challenges persist, including in relation to supporting career progression and tackling harassment, bullying and abuse.

‘While ethnic diversity in the NHS workforce has increased, the speed at which this is happening at board level, particularly among executives, is not keeping pace with overall diversity of the workforce. This has led to a stark disparity in board representation.’

She added: ‘These report findings, along with the latest NHS staff survey showing ethnic minority and disabled staff are more likely to experience abuse from patients and the public, underline the need for urgent action to ensure staff feel safe.’

The NHS staff survey, published earlier this month, revealed widespread reports of discrimination and sexual harassment by patients and colleagues during the past year.

A version of this article was originally published by our sister publication Healthcare Leader.

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