Minister: There’s systemic racism in the NHS

Published on: 1 Dec 2023

A health and social care minister privately said there was ‘systemic’ racism within the NHS and called for an investigation into it.

Helen Whately told Matt Hancock of her belief in a private message which was today shown to the covid public inquiry.

An inquiry hearing with Mr Hancock – who said he agreed with the point – was shown an exchange between Ms Whately, then care minister, and Mr Hancock in June 2020.

The Guardian had reported the previous day that an internal report had found systemic racism at NHS Blood and Transplant.

Ms Whately, who is now minister of state covering social care and urgent and emergency services, said: “I think the Bame next steps proposed are important but don’t go far enough. There’s systemic racism in some parts of the NHS, as seen in NHSBT.”

She added: “Now could be a good moment to kick off a proper piece of work to investigate and tackle it.”

According to the messages, Mr Hancock replied: “Yes agree 100 per cent. Can you make it happen?”

Mr Hancock was asked at the inquiry to confirm this meant he believed there was systemic racism within the NHS. He agreed and said he had tried to address the issue prior to the pandemic.

NHSBT has faced ongoing concerns about discrimination and bullying in recent years. This spring, HSJ reported that, despite pledging in 2020 to tackle internal racism, 15 white people had been appointed to its board positions, alongside one minority ethnic appointee who left the organisation after nine months.

It also follows push-back from Mr Hancock’s successor, Steve Barclay, to work in the NHS seeking to overcome racism. Mr Barclay has tried to stop national and local NHS organisations recruiting dedicated equality, diversity and inclusion teams.

The inquiry also today asked Mr Hancock about a 2020 HSJ report on the removal of a section from a Public Health England report into the covid risk for different groups, which a source claimed “did not survive contact” with Mr Hancock’s office. 

Mr Hancock denied knowledge of whether the section was removed and stressed it was his office – not himself – which had been named. He also suggested the hypothesis it may have happened due to the report being split in two.