Listen: The Debrief, digging deeper into revelations of institutional racism at a local NHS trust

It was 23 June 2023 when the Cable journalist Priyanka Raval received a tip-off from a source asking to discuss institutional racism at a local NHS trust.

That very day, an internal report published by the same organisation – University Hospitals Bristol and Weston UHBW) NHS Trust – sounded a warning on the same subject. “The feeling from some staff is that more work needs to be done around communicating and engaging… to demonstrate that the Trust is taking issues [around racism, discrimination and microaggressions] seriously,” it said.

This followed on from two inspections by the Care Quality Commission, in 2021 and 2022, which also raised concerns.

Priyanka, whose aunt faced racism during 40 years working as a nurse in the NHS, says she would have “expected better” in 2023. But her months-long investigation uncovered a series of depressingly similar accounts from current and former UHBW staff, detailing issues with bullying, people of being colour being passed over for promotion – and in some instances being subjected to direct racial slurs.

Much of the behaviour people experienced was far more subtle than this, but the pervasive impression was of staff from Black and other ethnic minority communities being treated differently from white colleagues.

With bitter irony, many of the interviewees had been actively recruited from overseas in a bid to tackle the acute staffing that the health service is currently going through. They alleged that despite being made aware of problems, the UHBW trust had done far too little to address them – in part because of a lack of diversity in key areas such as HR. Not much appears to have changed in the meantime.

In the latest episode of our new podcast strand – The Debrief – going behind the scenes of our big stories, Priyanka and fellow Cable journalist Matty Edwards discuss how the UHBW investigation came together, its impact, and why the issues it exposed point to the need for structural reform of the NHS. The full story is also available as an audio longread.

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The Bristol Cable