A survey of over 2,000 doctors and medical students across the UK has found that more than three quarters of doctors have experienced racism at least once in the last two years, with nearly 1 in 5 (17.4%) experiencing it on a regular basis.

The research, undertaken by the British Medical Association (BMA), is published ahead of ‘Anti-Racism in Medicine report’, due in Spring 2022, and reveals a high level of racist incidents occurring within the health service.

Nearly 20% considered leaving or have left their job as a result of racist incidents

While many experienced racism, the findings show a low-level of incident reporting. In total, 71% of doctors who experienced racism chose not to report it due to a lack of confidence that the issue would be addressed, or a fear they would be labelled as ‘troublemakers.’

The research also found that experiencing racist abuse had wider implications for health professionals, with nearly 20% of doctors saying they either considered leaving or did leave their job within the past two years due to race discrimination.

Racism also affected mental health, with nearly 60% of doctors who experienced racism saying the incident negatively impacted their wellbeing, including causing depression, anxiety and increased stress levels.

Racist incidents “undermine the NHS’ ability to bring out the best in its workforce”

While doctors from all ethnic minority backgrounds consider racism a problem in the medical profession, just 64% of white respondents highlighted it as an issue compared to 90% of Black and Asian respondents and 73% of mixed respondents.

Similarly, while 59.7% Asian, 57.3% Black, 45.1% Mixed, and 36.3% White non-British respondents said racism as a barrier to career progression, just 4.2% of White British respondents said the same.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA chair of council, said the survey’s results provide an “indisputable rebuttal to the government’s claims in its Sewell report that the NHS is a success story for ethnic minority doctors.”

Dr Nagpaul highlights that portraying the NHS as a “success” as a result of the high number of staff from ethnic minority backgrounds ignores the fact that many of these staff members deal with racism on a regular basis.

He warns that “these experiences of racism are clearly undermining the NHS’ ability to bring out the best in its workforce” and if doctors and medical students continue to suffer from poor wellbeing as a result of racist incidents, the quality of care will suffer.

The full report will be published in Spring

The full findings of the report alongside another research piece, which aims to understand the barriers which hinder career progression of doctors from ethnic minority backgrounds, will be published in the Spring.

The report will outline the causes of race inequality in the health service, as well as identify the reasons why significant progress has not been made to tackle this unacceptable reality faced by ethnic minority doctors in their working lives.

The Association says a series of recommendations will be made at the individual, organisational and societal level to ensure that the types of actions that need to be taken are targeted at the right level of organisation or individual who can effect that change, under the following themes:

  • Improving racial literacy
  • Being explicit about the need for change
  • Investment in root cause analysis and evaluation
  • Improving reporting processes
  • Increased accountability.

Roger Kline, Research Fellow Middlesex University Business School, said he hopes the report’s findings "will move NHS organisations to urgently review their responses to racism and bullying, being proactive and preventative when data shows there is a problem, rather than waiting for individual doctors to raise concerns."

"I also hope that every doctor and manager is crystal clear what their response should be when faced by racism from patients with a clear policy in place, robustly applied," he said.