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BME staff less likely to raise concerns in the workplace

Asian and black healthcare staff are significantly less likely to whistleblow than their white British colleagues, research shows.
Whistleblowing_tile_iStock.jpg

Asian and black healthcare staff are significantly less likely to whistleblow than their white British colleagues, research shows.

Surveys of almost 20,000 NHS staff have revealed a relationship between ethnicity and the likelihood of raising concerns.

Some 15,120 NHS trust staff responded to a Middlesex University survey, of which 29% were nurses and midwives.

A further 4,644 responded to a survey about working in GP practices and community pharmacies, of which 2% were nurses.

The surveys found:

  • Asian staff working in NHS trusts were 36% less likely than white British employees to raise a concern, with black staff 27.6% less likely.
  • In primary care, Asian staff were 32.8% and black staff 49.1% less likely to blow the whistle on a

Asian and black healthcare staff are significantly less likely to whistleblow than their white British colleagues, research shows.


The staff surveys revealed that ethnicity was a ‘statistically significant predictor’ of
how a person experiences whistleblowing. Picture: iStock

Surveys of almost 20,000 NHS staff have revealed a relationship between ethnicity and the likelihood of raising concerns.

Some 15,120 NHS trust staff responded to a Middlesex University survey, of which 29% were nurses and midwives.

A further 4,644 responded to a survey about working in GP practices and community pharmacies, of which 2% were nurses.

The surveys found:

  • Asian staff working in NHS trusts were 36% less likely than white British employees to raise a concern, with black staff 27.6% less likely.
  • In primary care, Asian staff were 32.8% and black staff 49.1% less likely to blow the whistle on a care issue than their white counterparts.

‘Significant predictor’

The research was originally commissioned in 2014 for Sir Robert Francis’ independent review into whistleblowing in the NHS. 

Raw data from the research, suggesting an association between ethnicity and experience of whistleblowing, was published in the annex of the Francis Freedom to Speak Up Review, which was published in 2015.

But a complete analysis of the research, shared with Nursing Standard, shows that ethnicity is a ‘statistically significant predictor’ of how a person experiences whistleblowing.

Writing in Nursing Standard, Middlesex University’s Whistleblowing Research Unit head David Lewis says Sir Robert’s review should have recommended specific support and protection for black and minority ethnic (BME) staff.

Education and support 

‘Our findings show a significant relationship between BME staff and whistleblowing in the NHS, and something could be done to address this,’ he said.

Professor Lewis added that staff do not raise concerns either for fear of retaliation or that nothing will be done about it.

He said training, education and support could improve the situation.

‘I think Sir Robert could have made a specific recommendation about positive action, making sure that groups are trained in raising concerns, particularly BME.’

More awareness 

All trusts have whistleblowing procedures, but professor Lewis said more awareness was needed of how to raise a concern and the action that would follow.

Sir Robert told Nursing Standard: ‘Clearly no review can be the last word on a subject in which further information and experience is likely to, and has, come to light.’

He pointed to his review’s recommendation that organisations ‘should consider the support and protection that may be required by BME staff, having regard in particular to the possibility that they may feel particularly vulnerable when raising concerns’.

The findings of the Middlesex University research follow the NHS Workforce Race Equality Standard data analysis, which examined the experience of NHS staff in England in 2015.

The report found BME staff were more likely than white colleagues to report discrimination at work from a manager or team leader, of trust type or location.


Further information

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