Skip to main content

Revealed: racism a ‘very serious problem’ at NHS agency

Published on: 21 Oct 2022

The troubled agency that supplies blood to the NHS has a ’very serious problem’ with racism, a staff survey has revealed.

Six hundred staff at NHS Blood and Transplant were surveyed and the results have been summarised in an internal memo, seen by HSJ. 

It said 55 per cent of respondents felt the problem of racism at NHSBT is “extremely or very serious”, while half had little confidence in the organisation’s recent efforts to tackle racial inequality.

When contacted for comment, a NHSBT spokeswoman said the results were “difficult to read” and added that “we are deeply sorry to those who have experienced negative behaviour”.

The issues over race and leadership come at perhaps the most operationally challenging period in NHSBT’s history.  It is struggling to find enough staff for its donation clinics, which meant it issued its first-ever “amber alert” over blood supplies recently. 

The survey was launched after HSJ’s coverage of leadership and race issues at NHSBT in recent months. A well-led review is expected to be published imminently by the Care Quality Commission, while former chief executive Betsy Bassis resigned in the summer.

There has also been controversy over a leaked recording of a phone conversation between Ms Bassis and ex-chair Millie Banerjee.

There had been long-standing concerns among staff around racism at one of NHSBT’s sites in north London, with a 2020 report finding it was a “systemic” problem.

The latest survey was carried out in late August, and around a third of the respondents were from ethnic minority backgrounds.

It found:

  • 55 per cent said the problem of racism at NHSBT is “extremely or very serious”
  • 30 per cent said there is a specific problem of discrimination against African or Caribbean-heritage people in NHSBT.
  • 29 per cent had personally experienced colleagues making racially insensitive statements or behaviours.
  • Only 5 per cent said that managers or colleagues displaying racist or discriminatory behaviours were treated firmly under NHSBT’s disciplinary process.
  • 50 per cent said efforts to reduce racial inequality in the organisation have been limited or not at all effective.

However, more than half of respondents (55 per cent) believed the organisation was committed to reducing racial inequality in the workplace.

In the memo, Torkwase Holmes and Zeeshan Asghar, co-chairs of NHSBT’s racial equality network, said the findings made for “difficult reading”.

They added: “We have been here before. Change was promised after the [2020] Globis report but the workstreams implemented had little impact.

“This time needs to be different. With this survey, following reports over the summer and ahead of the CQC well-led inspection report that is due next week, this has to be a moment we all come together, whatever our race or religion, and make NHSBT a fully inclusive, anti-racist organisation.”

They said the survey was open to all NHSBT 5,000 employees and 85 per cent of respondents were from outside the racial equality network.

An NHSBT spokeswoman added: “There are immediate actions we are taking, such as developing an anti-racism, bullying, harassment and discrimination framework, refreshing our equality objectives and investing further in safe channels for staff to raise concerns, ensuring a larger, diverse, confidential network is available to everyone no matter where they are based.

“We have also set out plans over the coming months to listen, engage and enable co-creation of our plan to ensure lasting change and that NHSBT is a fully inclusive and anti-racist organisation.”