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How COVID-19 impacts BAME workers in the NHS

How COVID-19 impacts BAME workers in the NHS

Innovation led by Professor Stephani Hatch lets managers walk in the shoes of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) staff in the NHS workforce.

Stephani Hatch is Professor of Sociology and Epidemiology at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London. Her research on racial discrimination in the NHS started long before COVID, but she says that the pandemic has focused attention on the problem.

Hatch’s research is on the mental health and employment experiences of health and social care workers from BAME backgrounds, in collaboration with the NHS Check study, and is keen to stress that the NHS takes these issues seriously.

Hatch says: “I have been working with NHS England on initiatives to understand and address discrimination in and out of the workplace. NHS management is receptive to our research, and there has been notable movement over time in this area with initiatives like the Workforce Race Equalities Standard and the Mental Health Equalities Taskforce.”

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) has awarded her about £500,000 for this work and it is building on a project supported by the Wellcome Trust since 2017.

Walking in their shoes

COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter have brought Hatch’s research to centre stage. Its scope has grown with the addition of new quantitative and qualitative questions to longitudinal surveys of BAME workers in the NHS.

Hatch and colleagues will be interviewing health and social care workers and NHS managers, and carrying out a longitudinal follow up with 45 NHS nurses and healthcare assistants, about their experiences of discrimination, bullying and harassment before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This work forms the starting point for a virtual reality tool, “Walking in the Shoes of…” which is used for NHS training and education. It allows people to witness discrimination and bullying as the victim for the first time. For example, they can experience applying for promotion when, as Hatch puts it, “there is no one like you in the room.”

Hatch says: “Now people can experience micro-aggressions, or more overt forms of aggression, on a ward or in the community, for the first time. This helps them to grasp complex, but sometimes subtle forms of racism that they need to understand.”

Hatch is optimistic about the situation today. She sees an unprecedented amount of thinking, sharing and action on these issues, with many more people than in the past asking what they can do. “I have always said that the subject is complex and that things will not happen immediately. Now is a time when change is moving at a little faster and I am hopeful.”