Top Hospital Chief Calls for NHS to Fight ‘White Privilege’

Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

The chief executive of a major hospital trust has slammed “white privilege” in the National Health Service (NHS), demanding the public healthcare service put more ethnic minorities in top jobs.

Sarah-Jane Marsh, chief executive of Birmingham Women’s & Children’s NHS Trust vowed to boycott all-white interview board panels, which she claimed cause underperformance amongst black and minority ethnic (BAME) job applicants.

In an interview with Sky News on Tuesday, she said: “White people are more likely to be appointed at interview than black people, and in my own organisation they are twice as likely to be appointed.”

“I do not believe that is because white people are twice as good as black people, there is something else going on,” she told Sky, after figures showed that BAME people make up 18 per cent of the workforce of NHS England as a whole, but 5 per cent of the organisation’s most senior managers.

“I think there is white privilege, I think there are people having unconscious bias, there are people coming to interview and not performing because they see a panel in front of them that does not believe in diversity, and I want to do something to change that.

“I want anyone coming for interview to see that we are a diverse organisation and want the best people regardless of their background.

“It’s clear white people have privilege because they make their way into positions of authority far more quickly,” she told Sky.

“If we did not have BME staff we would not have an NHS,” Ms. Marsh declared, insisting that the healthcare service must do more to send out subtle messages showing its respect for “diversity”.

“If you walk into an interview room and are met with a white wall you are going to think this organisation is not for me, or ‘they are going to think I’m not for them’.

“If that happens, initial performance can drop because of all these soft signals that the organisation does not value diversity,” she argued.

In the past few years, unconscious bias training has become increasingly popular amongst corporations and private companies as well as a wide variety of organisations including universities and U.S. police departments, with even the British Army looking into using it to fight “micro-inequalities”.

While proponents of the trend claim that household income and crime rates are driven by unconscious biases held by individuals across society, psychologists say not only is “almost everything about implicit bias … controversial in scientific circles” but that its wider adoption amongst employers is dangerous and counterproductive.

The co-chairman of the NHS Equality and Diversity Council, Joan Saddler, welcomed Ms. Marsh’s announcement and called for other white managers to follow her lead, stating that ethnic minority NHS staff in senior positions have long been “clear about the need as leaders to ensure diversity”.

“Morally, of course, it is the right thing to do. From a legal point of view we have to do this, and from a financial point of view it makes sense,” she told Sky News.

“Representation in the workforce is not only about numbers and colours it’s about saying we can have a better quality of service if we have a more diverse service,” added Ms Saddler.

Researchers in 2014 found what they called a “performance gap” between UK and overseas-trained doctors, while General Medical Council (GMC) figures showed foreign doctors five times more likely to be removed or suspended from the medical register than those trained in the UK, with around three quarters of doctors struck off having been trained abroad despite making up a much smaller proportion than British-trained.


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