Warning: This article contains some distressing anecdotes.
From being made to stand by while their colleagues laughed at deeply offensive “jokes” to being forced to remove a hijab, more frontline medics have revealed the shocking racism and xenophobia they have faced from their own colleagues.
“Two intensive care doctors I worked with met up on their days off and the team asked them if they were arranging a terrorist attack,” one woman came forward to reveal.
“Everyone was laughing to make it into a joke, but I saw their faces forcing themselves to smile at the awful ‘joke’. Racism is very much alive in the NHS.”
Their stories emerged after we published an investigation and did a HuffPost UK survey with the British Islamic Medical Association (BIMA) last month, in which we lifted the lid on how Muslims working within the NHS are subjected to taunts about bacon and alcohol and bullied for wearing a hijab.
An alarming 81% of the 133 surveyed told they had experienced Islamophobia or racism within the NHS and 69% felt it had got worse during their time at the organisation.
More than half – 57% – felt Islamophobia had held their back in their career progression in the NHS.
Since running our two-part investigation, HuffPost UK and BIMa have been inundated with messages and e-mails from people sharing their own tales of Islamophobia in the NHS.
One GP from South Yorkshire said Islamophobia in today’s NHS is usually subtle and based on unconscious bias rather than explicit racism. He said that in its most common form, it is the inferior treatment of Muslim staff members based on the perception that they are different.
“These stereotypes exist in everyday life, but perhaps people outside of the NHS find it shocking because prejudiced behaviour doesn’t fit the often cliched ‘hero’ narrative of NHS workers,” he said.
He said he had suffered many personal experiences of Islamophobia, particularly when he was doing his general surgical training.
One incident which sticks in his mind happened when he was doing a clinic with a consultant surgeon and a specialist nurse. “We took a quick break between appointments and the consultant announced he had a great joke to tell,” he remembered.
“He asked: ‘What do you call one Pakistani at the bottom of the sea? His answer was ‘A problem.’
“He then continued and asked: ‘What do you call all the Pakistanis under the sea?’ and then replied: ‘Problem solved.’
“The consultant laughed, as did the white English nurse. The worst bit was he specifically looked at me while telling the joke with a challenging and taunting expression which implied: ‘What are you going to do about it? You need my help to advance your career.’”