Abuse and bullying of ethnic minority NHS staff is rising

Number of black and minority ethnic NHS staff being abused by patients rises to six-year high, workforce survey shows

  • The NHS Staff Survey 2018 revealed workers’ attitudes to the state of the service
  • There are reports of rising abuse from both patients and colleagues
  • Around 230,000 NHS staff (almost one in five) are from non-white ethnic groups

Almost one in three ethnic minority NHS staff were abused by patients or members of the public last year, a survey has revealed.

The NHS Staff Survey 2018, published today, revealed 29.8 per cent of non-white health workers said they have experienced harassment, bullying or abuse from the public.

The figure is the highest in six years and a rise of 1.3 per cent from 28.5 per cent in 2017 – the same figure for white staff is two per cent lower and is falling.

At the same time, the survey revealed nearly one in five staff (19.1 per cent) had been harassed or bullied by their own colleagues within the last 12 months. 

And the proportion of minority staff making these claims rose from 21.8 per cent to 23.5 per cent between 2014 and 2018. 

The NHS Staff Survey 2018, published today, revealed the proportion of black and minority ethnic staff who said they were abused or harassed by a patient, relative or member of the public over the past year rose by 1.3 per cent (stock image)

The staff survey is completed every year by thousands of NHS staff who are asked about their working conditions and job satisfaction.

Many measures are improving – most staff are enthusiastic about their jobs and are happy with the quality of care they provide – but this year’s results raised concerns about harassment at work.

Around 1.1million people work for the NHS, 19.8 per cent of whom – approximately 230,000 people – are from non-white ethnic groups.

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The number of staff experiencing physical violence at the hands of patients, relatives and members of the public has fallen, but harassment and abuse rose last year for both white and non-white staff.

But the rise for black and ethnic minority workers was 1.2 per cent higher than the 0.1 per cent increase among white staff.


Higher numbers of people visit doctors and hospitals in the winter, making staff busier, but too few staff and funding gaps make it even more difficult for hospitals to run smoothly.  

There were more than 100,000 empty job posts in September 2018 and analysts feared the situation would only get worse.

NHS trusts across England were also £814 million in deficit at the end of June, a shocking quarterly report also revealed. 

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said trusts – which run local services and spend money – ‘are doing all they can’.

Commenting on the figures, he added: ‘However hard they run, they don’t seem able to outpace the increase in demand.

‘Trusts tell us they are most worried about the workforce shortages they face, and it’s a real concern that these figures have shown such a big increase in vacancy levels. 

‘It’s worrying this problem is getting worse rather than better.’  

NHS Employers’s chief executive, Danny Mortimer, said: ‘We cannot ignore the fact that staff are increasingly feeling unwelcome pressure for a variety of reasons.

‘Importantly, they are telling employers that there is still more to do to address the issue of discrimination and bullying and to support their well-being.’

The staff survey compares results from the past four years.

During that time, the proportion of black and ethnic minority staff reporting abuse or harassment from the public has risen from 29 per cent to 29.8 per cent.

This is the highest since 2012, when the comparable figure was 31 per cent. 

The same figure for white staff fell from 28.4 per cent to 27.4 per cent between 2014 and 2018, widening the race gap.

A total of 78,006 people responding to the survey were from BME backgrounds – out of 497,117 overall.

A gap in the experiences of people of different races was also evident in a section on opportunities for career progression.

While 86.3 per cent of white staff said they felt the NHS has equal opportunities for promotions, only 69.9 per cent of non-white staff felt the same way.

And the proportion of all staff reporting they had suffered bullying, abuse or harassment from a co-worker rose from 18 per cent to 19.1 per cent between 2017 and 2018.

The rise was larger among minority staff, with their figure going up from 22.1 to 23.5 per cent – the proportion rose from 17 per cent to 18 per cent for white staff.

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