What can we do within the NHS to improve the outcomes of our BAME patients and our colleagues?
Race discrimination continues to affect people’s lives in fundamental ways. It influences people’s outcomes such as within education, housing, the criminal justice system and the workplace. But one historically under-reported topic is how racism impacts people’s health outcomes.
One in three patients admitted to critical care with COVID-19 has been from a minority ethnic group, despite making up only one-eighth of the UK population. Public Health England’s report on disparities in the Risk and Outcomes of COVID-19 looked at addressing the reasons behind the figures. But really, these alarming statistics represent what we have known for a long time – that people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds generally experience poorer health outcomes than the overall population.
But what is driving these outcomes? There is a clear socio-economic link between BAME communities and social deprivation. We know from official government figures that the percentage of people from BAME backgrounds living in more densely populated areas is higher, as well as those living in the most deprived areas.
There is also an occupational risk – with those from BAME backgrounds more likely to work in frontline roles, such as tube, bus and taxi drivers, or as frontline clinicians working with COVID positive patients.
Here at Solent NHS Trust, we have a developed a focussed strategic race equality taskforce. It is about delving deep into the cultural aspects of our organisation and reviewing what we already do well, but also where we need to improve. As a result, there have so far been several tangible outcomes. There is more BAME representation throughout the organisation; we have two representatives around the executive table and two out of our six non-executive directors are from a BAME background. We continue to have more conversations about race, ethnicity and culture at all levels of the organisation.
Changing a whole culture, particularly within the NHS, is not something that can happen overnight. But having a taskforce enables open conversations and dialogue and allows us to make changes based on experiences and create that cultural shift. Having race at top of agenda creates a better environment for our workforce and patients.
As leaders working in the healthcare environment, we all need to challenge ourselves and think – what can we all do to help to support our BAME colleagues and ensure that improvements are made that provide better health outcomes for our future generations.