Report: Minority UK health workers faced harassment, bias during pandemic

hospital cleaner

gorodenkoff/ iStock 

Ethnic minority National Health Service (NHS) staff in the United Kingdom were more likely to face workplace harassment, discrimination, and lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) than their White colleagues during the pandemic, reveals new research in Occupational & Environmental Medicine.

Healthcare staff from monitory ethnic groups make up 25% of the NHS workforce in England, and nearly 50% in London. As in the United States, minority staff were more likely to be frontline workers during the early months of the pandemic, and were over-represented in deaths due to COVID-19.

The study used survey responses from the online Inequalities Survey to determine how and if the pandemic exacerbated inequalities in the NHS workforce.

The survey asked about workplace conditions, work experiences, mental health, and physical health. A total of 4,622 healthcare staff were surveyed from February to October 2021.

Most of the respondents were women (75%), UK-born (84%), worked in clinical roles (68%), and had a permanent employment contract (90%). Among Black respondents, almost 50% worked in non-clinical roles, compared with 33% in the White group, and almost 60% worked in London (compared with 13% of the White staff).

In total, 33% of all respondents reported workplace bullying, harassment, and abuse, and 20% reported facing discrimination from other staff members.

Disparities tied to worse mental health

Compared with White staffers, Black staff members had more than twice the odds of experiencing workplace harassment (adjusted odds ratio (AOR), 2.43; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.56 to 3.78), The odds were also much higher for employer discrimination (AOR, 4.36; 95% CI, 2.73 to 6.96).

Black staff also were at greater risk of experiencing PPE shortages (AOR, 2.16; 95% CI, 1.16 to 4.00).

Experiencing harassment, discrimination, and PPE shortages was tied to worse mental health outcomes.

According to the authors, unavailable PPE was associated with an approximately twofold increase in probable depression, probable anxiety, and moderate to severe somatic symptoms (an extreme focus on physical symptoms, such as pain or shortness of breath, that causes major emotional distress). Bullying, harassment and abuse, and discrimination were associated with a threefold increase in probable depression.

These workplace experiences were associated with negative physical and mental health outcomes.

The authors write that the study "found alarmingly high exposure to negative workplace experiences related to harassment and discrimination among ethnically minoritised NHS staff during the pandemic." They add, "These workplace experiences were associated with negative physical and mental health outcomes."

This week's top reads