Royal College of Psychiatrists President warns of institutional racism infecting the NHS

Press release
10 July 2023

The President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists has warned about unacceptable levels of racism in the NHS and of employers being too slow to act against the abuse experienced by mental health workers. 

In his valedictory address as President, Dr Adrian James will tell the College’s International Congress in Liverpool that institutional racism harms patients and drives psychiatrists and other health practitioners out of the NHS. 

Dr James will say:

“Sir William Macpherson defined institutional racism as ‘the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racial stereotyping’. 

“Institutional racism is rife in society and the NHS is not immune. We see its pernicious effects on colleagues who are leaving the NHS in droves. It can be seen in the unfair ethnic pay gaps, in the disparities in disciplinary processes and in the glass ceiling that stops doctors from minoritised ethnic backgrounds securing management positions. Tackling racism in the workplace is key to recruiting and retaining psychiatrists and other health practitioners.

“Let me be clear: there is absolutely no place for racism in today’s society. It is a stain on the NHS. It damages mental health and makes existing mental illness worse. It destroys lives – the lives of patients and colleagues. The NHS has a moral, ethical and legal duty to do much more to stamp out racism in all its forms.”

The Royal College of Psychiatrists is calling on employers across the UK to act against racism. A recent survey of College members found six in ten (58%) doctors from minoritised ethnic backgrounds have faced overt or covert racism at work. Over a quarter (29%) of those who experienced racism said it affected their health and four in ten (41%) said it had an impact on patients or carers. 

NHS data shows doctors from minoritised ethnic backgrounds are paid 7% less on average than comparable White colleagues. The NHS Medical Workforce Race Equality Standard report also found doctors from minoritised ethnic backgrounds make up 41.9% of the medical workforce in England but just 20.3% of medical directors. In 2022, the Mental Welfare Commission Scotland published an extensive report which found almost a third of doctors reported they had seen or experienced racism directed at their NHS colleagues.  

Today, the Royal College of Psychiatrists has launched Act Against Racism - a new campaign calling on mental health employers across the UK to adopt 15 actions to tackle racism in the workplace. The guidance includes a step-by-step guide with practical examples on how to address institutional and interpersonal racism. 

“Our Tackling Racism in the Workplace guidance will help every mental health employer in the UK to ‘Act Against Racism’ at a strategic and systemic level,” said Dr James. “It provides clear, measurable actions for employers and implementation guidance. It shows employers how to recognise and respond to instances of discrimination on racial and ethnic grounds and signposts them to sources of support within and outside their own organisation.”