Insults, racial gaslighting and prejudiced violence – top BHRUT doctor opens up about racism in NHS

Devesh Sinha, lead stroke consultant at Barking, Havering and Redbridge NHS Trust has lifted the lid

Devesh Sinha, lead stroke consultant at Barking, Havering and Redbridge NHS Trust has lifted the lid on the disgraceful racism still faced by NHS doctors. Picture: BHR Hospitals - Credit: Archant

A top stroke specialist has spoken out about the “harrowing” racism he has faced while working for the NHS.

Devesh Sinha, lead stroke consultant at Barking, Havering and Redbridge (BHR) NHS Trust, has worked in healthcare for more than a decade and in the four years he has been in east London his team has moved from one of the worst performers of stroke clinical care in the capital to one of the best.

However, despite his achievements, he said he has often been subject to prejudice from colleagues and patients because of the colour of his skin.

In a blog post for the trust Dr Sinha opened up about the “everyday racism and structural racism” which he said many health staff face.

“I did not dare to open up on the ugly bits which require a lot of courage to speak up about,” he said.

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“Like most doctors of colour, I have experienced insults, microaggressions, racial gaslighting and, to put it frankly, prejudiced violence.

“My experiences may be the norm for all trainee and senior doctors and may be something we never talk about openly. One works hard to deliver excellence in patient care and yet still get told it is ‘only’ sheer luck. When exciting opportunities come along, one is told that we only need the best people – implying bias, that with my colour such excellence is inconceivable.”

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BAME NHS staff are suffering from increasing levels of bullying and abuse, according to NHS England’s latest Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES) report.

The number of BAME staff reporting bullying, harassment or abuse from patients or the public rose from 29.1 per cent in 2016 to 29.8pc in 2019. For white staff the number fell by 0.3pc.

Dr Sinha said colleagues and staff had to stand up to racism and racist microaggression in order to force change in the NHS.

He added: “It’s everyday racism and structural racism that are the two main challenges in work. On everyday racism, I feel there should be a microaggression daily survival guide for juniors and senior doctors.

“Some of my experiences are too ugly to share. I sincerely hope that what I have experienced does not remain the norm in the NHS.

“One beautiful morning I recall walking with my multicultural team into a cubicle of four patients and relatives to provide them with the best care. Imagine how it feels to hear – ‘now Brexit is happening, these people will go home’.

“Usually, it is directed at the people of colour on the team who are improving patient care services by working twice as hard.

“It is more scarring when your white colleagues in the room are clueless, silent or even smiling, nervously. The buzzword of ‘teamwork’, in such circumstances, disappears into thin air.”

BHRUT said it is “working hard” to address the inequalities that exist within the NHS in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests and the news that Covid-19 has had a more severe impact on BAME communities.

Some 98 per cent of BAME staff at the trust have now completed a risk assessment.

Dr Sinha added: “Being a foreign doctor in the NHS excludes BAME colleagues from some of the privileges reserved only for white counterparts to progress to the NHS executive boards on the basis of their ability. This is a form of cultural disability, and the NHS must want to help, talk and challenge.”

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