May 22 2024
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After Lawrence, we should be ashamed

After Lawrence, we should be ashamed

Earlier this month many NHS staff joined Doreen and Neville Lawrence in welcoming the jailing of their son’s racist killers. Their campaigning led to an understanding of ‘institutional discrimination’, in public services.

One week after that momentous court decision a quite different case reminded us that we still have a very long way to go before there is a level playing field for black staff employed in the NHS. Elliott Browne spent 34 years working for the NHS and became the first black man to hold the position of divisional director for clinical scientific services with the Central Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust. Yet, following discrimination that cost him his health and career, he has just been awarded £933,000 compensation for unfair dismissal, aggravated damages and loss of earnings and pension, one of the highest ever awards for workplace racial discrimination.

The Tribunal concluded that ‘we find that, once the race discrimination grievance was put in, the trust closed ranks and commenced disciplinary action against the claimant to secure his removal from office’,  a judgement that has eerie similarities with other recent NHS discrimination cases.

Has Mr Browne’s ex-employer reflected on its actions and taken action to improve matters for other black staff, disciplined anyone as a result or entered a period of reflection and apology? Sadly, the Trust still denies discriminating against Mr Browne and is appealing the decision.

The Trusts own employment data on the employment of Black Caribbean staff four years after Elliott Browne first lodged his complaint might have given the Trust cause to reflect.

6.9% of Central Manchester’s population is Black Caribbean but only 0.7% of the Trust workforce are Black Caribbean, a total of 69 staff out of 9341 staff. So the proportion of Black Caribbean employed is ten times less than one might reasonably expect.

Those Black Caribbean staff who are employed, almost without exception, are to be found in the bottom four pay bands with not a single Black Caribbean person being employed in the top five pay bands except in medical and dental grades where one in 300 is Black Caribbean. Just 0.4% (one in 250) of the professional and scientific staff are Black Caribbean and not one single healthcare scientist is. So Elliott Browne really was an exception in this hospital.

Trust data summarising the shortlisting and appointment process shows 25% of white British staff were shortlisted and of those 26% were appointed. By comparison, 18% of Black Caribbean applicants were shortlisted and of this smaller proportion (all of whom presumably met the job specification) only 20% were appointed. So the chances of a Black Caribbean applicant being appointed were just over half that of White British applicants. The future looks no better. Of student health professionals who have declared their ethnicity 60% are white British and 40% are ‘not stated’ so there are no declared ethnic minority students at all.

The experience of Black Caribbean staff within the Trust disciplinary procedure is no better. 0.7% of White British staff were subject to disciplinary proceedings but 4.4% of Black Caribbean staff were – six times more likely. Inevitably, since the numbers of Black Caribbean staff concerned are so small, we should be wary of drawing conclusions but Elliott Browne’s case suggests that all is not well.

The Trust data for sickness and performance management suggests that Black Caribbean staff are much less likely (indeed almost the least likely of all groups) to be subject to sickness and performance management warnings or dismissals, suggesting that their relatively poor experiences in appointment, grading and discipline are not related to their abilities or attendance.

Not a single Black Caribbean employee raised a grievance in 2010-11 and only one raised a complaint of unfair treatment. Far from being good news, this might well be a rational response to the experience of Elliott Browne, whose reward for raising a grievance was, according to the Tribunal, to lose his job.

Finally, 12 out of the 69 Black Caribbean staff left the Trust last year, mirroring the fact that across the Trust Black and Minority Ethnic staff were significantly more likely to leave Trust employment than other staff.

It is never true, of course, that ‘the facts speak for themselves’ but reading the Trust’s  110 page ‘Workforce Profile’ you would never guess that Black Caribbean employment (or lack of it) in the Trust appears to require urgent explanation in the wake of Mr Browne’s dismissal.

Institutional racism was defined by Lord McPherson as: ‘The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people.’

It is not enough for the Trust to deny this single act of discrimination when the organisation appears to be so deeply discriminatory. If other NHS Trusts were opened up to scrutiny, many would disclose similar patterns of discrimination. If you don’t believe me take a look. His union, Unite, have done us all a favour by winning this case. Rather than waste talent and punish those who ask difficult questions, real NHS leadership on racism consists acknowledging the issue and making sure that Stephen Lawrence’s legacy is that we prevent more staff being treated like Elliott Browne and tackle discrimination of any kind unrelentingly.

Roger Kline writes on employment rights and was a member of the Higher Education Equality Challenge Unit (roger@kline.org.uk)