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Trust CEO apologises to staff subjected to racist behaviour

Published on: 15 Mar 2023

A chief executive has apologised after a survey of his trust’s staff from minority ethnic backgrounds found many had been subjected to racist behaviour by colleagues.

The staff at East of England Ambulance Service Trust said peers had made monkey noises and referred to banana boats in front of them, excluded them from social events, and assumed they could speak Middle Eastern and Asian languages just because of their skin colour, they told researchers.

The trust has had substantial cultural problems for several years, and commissioned the survey to “better understand the experience, perceptions and realities of the trust BME staff”, a board paper said.

The consultation exercise received 58 responses from 120 employees from minority ethnic backgrounds who were asked. They filled in a confidential survey and 26 also took part in a telephone survey.

The report on its findings, published this week in trust board papers, warns: “There are risks that a minority of EEAST employees are demonstrating behaviours or using language which could be perceived as racist. Reports of subsequent inaction by managers further risk this behaviour being normalised.”

It added that some of the accounts were “extremely rare” to be found within a professional sector of the NHS.

Only a third felt complaints about inappropriate behaviour or language would be dealt with – and some staff were reluctant to call out racist behaviours because they were scared of repercussions.

Although several staff said in the survey there was a generational difference, with workers in their 50s and 60s more likely to display racist attitudes, the report suggested that rather than “older workers” being the root cause, there could be a “more general underlying and unchallenged culture of xenophobia within some pockets of trust employees”.

The report said in some cases, callers to the trust’s emergency operations centre were treated differently if they were from an ethnic minority. In others cases patients were rude to minority ethnic staff, with one paramedic being told “the patient didn’t want to be treated by the likes of me”.

Many survey respondents felt staff from a minority ethnic background were passed over for promotion because “their face didn’t fit”, and were treated differently at job interviews, with 60 per cent saying career development, advancement and training opportunities were not equal.

They struggled to find role models in senior positions and felt little was done to encourage a diverse workforce: only 31 per cent felt senior management showed commitment to promoting equality of opportunity and embracing diversity.

The report made eight recommendations including communicating the findings of the report, repeating it with another group such as LGBTQ+ staff, and improvements to reporting and escalating concerns.

EEAST chief executive Tom Abell personally apologised to staff for their experiences and perceptions, according to the board paper. It said the report made “uncomfortable reading” and set a baseline for improvements.

“A zero tolerance for such poor behaviour was confirmed and, if repeated, appropriate and proportionate action would be taken,” it said. Some of the poor behaviour occurred before the current executive team were in post.

The trust is developing an integrated inclusivity plan which will have a number of key performance indicators to provide greater assurance of progress, it added.

The survey was run by McKenzie Human Resources, a specialist equality, diversity and inclusion consultancy.