A report published by Public Health England (PHE) earlier this month revealed that Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people have a significantly higher chance of developing and dying from Covid-19 than white British people. In an attempt to protect more at-risk staff, the NHS suggests that employers draft risk assessments to help ensure the safety of BAME staff.

A survey, published jointly by Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) and UK Black Pharmacists Association (UKBPA) today, has revealed that more than two-thirds of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) pharmacists and pre-registration pharmacists across primary and secondary care have still not been given risk assessments by their managers.

Alongside this lack of support, many BAME pharmacy team members have been penalised and bullied for asking for protection, Elsy Gomez Campos, president of UKBPA tells the Pharmacist.

BAME staff are getting penalised for raising safety issues

‘BAME members have been put at a huge disadvantage because they have raised issues of safety - rather than be protected. Especially locums, who don’t have a fixed contract,’ she says.

She described the situation of one locum BAME pharmacist who was asked to work at a pharmacy in another town. He quickly made his line manager aware that this would be an issue because of the distance he would need to travel and that the transport he would need to take would increase his chances of contracting Covid-19. Days after he made the complaint he began to suffer discrimination and bullying from his colleagues and line manager.

‘He’s been left with mental health issues,’ Ms Gomez Campos tells the Pharmacist. ‘He now doubts every move he makes.’

Cases like this are far from uncommon, even before the days of Covid-19, she suggests.

'People told me for many years to stay quiet and not complain'

Ms Gomez Campos uses her own experience of discrimination to explain why many people may not complain about their experience of racist abuse. ‘I’ve worked in pharmacy for over 20 years, and for as long as I kept quiet and never complained about racial discrimination I was fine.

‘As soon as I spoke about racism, I became a victim of abuse.’

Ms Gomez Campos complained to her line manager when she felt that herself and other BAME co-workers were being discriminated against and were not being offered the same career opportunities as her white peers. She says the whole process was ‘very painful,' and she ended up losing her job.

‘After that, I understood why no one talks about the racism they experience and why so many people keep quiet.

‘Many people told me for many years to stay quiet and not complain.’

75% of pharmacy team members who experience racism do not report it

Staying quiet and not reporting instances of racism is a widespread issue across the pharmacy sector. A survey conducted by the Pharmacist this month has revealed that 75% of pharmacy team members who experience racism do not report it to the police or management.

This, Ms Gomez Campos says, is where the problem lies and is one of the reasons why racism and discrimination are so prevalent in pharmacy.

‘We never talk about racism in pharmacy. I have never seen or heard of a line manager discuss it with their team. I’ve never in my 20 years in pharmacy had a line manager come up to me and ask what my experience of being a black woman in pharmacy is like.

‘We need to talk about racism and discrimination openly and make it normal to talk about; in the same way people in pharmacies talk about health issues, we need to talk about racial inequalities. That is when we will start to see real change.’

‘I don’t believe the majority of people sign up to be racist'

‘I don’t believe the majority of people sign up to be racist, but I do believe the majority don’t feel comfortable talking about it,’ she adds.

She also commented on the lack of diversity in leadership positions and how that too is contributing to racism in the pharmacy sector.

According to Ms Gomez Campos, BAME issues are not taken seriously by the NHS and this is because there is a lack of BAME representation.

‘You look at leadership boards across many different health organisations and there are no black faces. How can they understand our needs if they don’t look like us?

‘We need to be represented where decisions are being made so they don't forget about our needs,’ she says.

Action is needed

The coinciding of the Black Lives Matter movement and the publication of the PHE report has shone a light on BAME issues on a global scale. Ms Gomez Campos doesn’t think that these two events alone will start the impetus for real change.

‘It’s a great opportunity for change to happen as it’s got people talking,’ she says. ‘However, the only way things will improve is if we keep the pressure on this.’

Earlier this week, RPS published their pledge to improve inclusion and diversity (I&D) across the pharmacy sector as part of a five-year plan.

‘I’d like to see organisations not just saying what they will do. I want to see actions. Otherwise, this is just going to be another sad story for black people,’ she says.

‘Let's not make all this suffering another headline, let's make this the start of change.’