Race is a function of racism; we ignore that reality at our peril, say leaders

Response to the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities' report into racial and ethnic disparities in the UK.

31 March 2021

Joan Saddler OBE and Wayne Farah, co-facilitators of the BME Leadership Network, said:

“The report is not a critical assessment of racism in Britain in 2021, but rather an intervention that claims to present ‘a new race agenda for the country’. We welcome the recognition that racism exists and needs to be challenged and overcome. But the report delegitimises ‘institutional racism’ rather than focusing on the inequity and experiences of racism that persist for our black, Asian and other minority ethnic staff and communities. Doing so is a fundamental part of what we believe in as NHS leaders.

“Much of the report’s agenda is not new, referring back to the Scarman report. This argued that there was no systematic racial injustice in the UK and that there may be ‘disadvantage’ arising from ghetto culture and ethnic differences, giving rise to misunderstandings and insensitivities on both sides. It provided no cause for the injustice black people experienced. This analysis was discredited in the Stephen Lawrence inquiry report that required us to confront the realities of institutional racism.

“Race is a function of racism, and we ignore that reality at our peril. The NHS Workforce Race Equality Standard points out the racism and discrimination experienced by people from black and minority ethnic communities. Similarly, the NHS Long Term Plan points to the need to reduce health inequalities, but we still have a long way to go in doing so. Lastly, it is critically important that we assert the principle of self-definition as determined by equalities groups.

“There are a range of recommendations with many that are related to health. Our members will need to assess whether they go far enough and if, together, they will help address inequalities that have been exacerbated by the pandemic."

Calls for greater acknowledgement of institutional racism

In December 2020, the BME Leadership Network published Perspective from the Frontline: The disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on BME communities which pointed to the unequivocal role of institutional racism in the disproportionate impact of the virus on people from a minority ethnic background.

Over 9 in 10 (92 per cent) of respondents to a survey which informed the report called for greater acknowledgement of the role of institutional racism in health services.  

The NHS Race and Health Observatory, an independent body hosted by the NHS Confederation and supported by NHS England and NHS Improvement, has been set up to investigate the impact of race and ethnicity on people’s health.

It provide evidenced recommendations with regard to long-standing health inequalities affecting ethnic minority patients and communities, including maternity and neonatal outcomes, mental health, data and digital access to healthcare – as well as the immediate challenges of the impact of the pandemic.