Racial bias in healthcare: building an effective support system for healthcare workers

There’s no doubt People of Colour working in healthcare suffer abuse. For many, this is a daily occurrence.

Working in highly emotional situations means healthcare workers are often in the firing line of verbal, and even physical, abuse. Although this is never to be accepted, it’s often expected in roles within the emergency services, for example. What’s not always expected is the abuse that comes from, in many cases, the very people they are trying to help.

The British Medical Association Report 2022 revealed that over three-quarters (76%) of respondents had experienced racism in their workplace on at least one occasion in the last two years. Of these, 17% experienced racist incidents on a regular basis.

Even more worryingly of those who had reported experiences of racism, nearly 6 in 10 total respondents (58%) said that doing so had a negative impact on them.

“I feel racism has taken a different form in the recent years, it is not so much about the personal remarks against someone, but it is more of an institutionally managed atmosphere that makes sure that the working rights of the minority are curtailed or not heard, which in a way makes working in NHS a misery rather than pleasure.” (Consultant, Indian, England)

In our last article, we discussed ways to increase create safe spaces for conversations on racism in the NHS within the workplace. Now we want to share some best practices on how you can support staff experiencing racial abuse from patients, their relatives, the public and even their colleagues.

Building an effective support system for ethnically marginalised healthcare workers

The focus needs to be on building an inclusive culture to ensure there’s a support system in place for staff who have experienced racism. Whilst some staff may want to report certain incidents, many racist behaviours will go unreported. Comments and behaviours from other staff and patients that, whether intentional or not, undermine, belittle, stereotype, or insult Black, Asian and ethnically marginalised staff.


Create safe spaces for Black, Asian and ethnically marginalised employees

  • Create an easy and safe process for employees to report racist incidents (find out how here).

  • Provide appropriate workplace counselling services for ethnically marginalised staff.

  • Host voluntary roundtables, events and discussions about race.

  • Develop an active safe-space channel on Slack, for example, to talk about race.

Make sure the responsibility for handling racist behaviour does not fall onto the shoulders of those being subjected to it

Consider ways that the entire organisation can play an active role, such as by organising a company-wide, virtual allyship panel with workplace leaders and external racial justice experts. You should aim to provide practical advice on how all employees can address racial microaggressions and racist jokes in the workplace, as well as communicating your organisation’s stance on racism with clear steps on how staff should respond if they witness a racist incident.

Educate all of your employees

We know NHS staff are overworked and time-poor, so it’s important to find ways to continually educate your workforce to improve racial awareness and reduce racist behaviours.

Some ideas on how to do this include:

  1. Celebrate religious and cultural festivals/occasions.

  2. Create a book club that focuses on topics connected to ethnicity or work by ethnically marginalised authors.

  3. Run an anti-racism campaign.

  4. Participate in cross-organisational ethnically marginalised mentoring circles.

  5. Serve meals from around the world.

  6. Encourage ethnically marginalised employees to submit articles about lived experiences and share them internally.

Provide your staff with external support

While you’re setting up your support system, many organisations offer support, so it would be beneficial to signpost employees to them;

Organisations offering free support for NHS workers:
  • Project5 – a not-for-profit offering self-help resources and free one-to-one support for NHS staff.

  • Our Frontline – has compiled information about help and support services for those working in health or social care. It has a text service, available any time, and a helpline, open 7am–11pm, for those based in England.

  • Harley Therapy – free one-to-one support sessions for NHS staff.

Third sector organisations to support NHS staff:
  • Black Thrive – a partnership dedicated to reducing inequality and injustices experienced by Black people in mental health services.

  • National Bullying Helpline – a national charity with a helpline that’s available 9 am–5pm, Monday to Friday.

  • The Black, African and Asian Therapy Network – a network offering resources and information relating to mental health and wellbeing.

  • Rethink – a national charity offering advice and information relating to mental health and wellbeing.

  • Black Minds Matter UK – a charity supporting Black people to access mental health services.

  • Samaritans – a national mental health charity offering a free helpline service, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

  • Mind– a national mental health charity providing information, advice and support.

Data collection to understand where issues lie & how you can overcome them

Understanding the root cause of the racial disparity you are experiencing in your organisation is key to implementing tangible change. Having FLAIR's analytics engine and roadmaps in your toolbox means you can finally take meaningful action on racial bias. FLAIR harnesses the power of data, to advance racial equity and drive successful DE&I strategies.

Is there a support system in place within your organisation? In our next article in this series, we’ll be looking at how to create equal opportunities for career progression and promotion for every individual in our workforce.

Download the guide: 4 steps to building inclusive cultures in the NHS