A wide-ranging survey of Muslim healthcare professionals (HCP) in the NHS reveals a startling and deeply worrying level of anti-Muslim abuse, discrimination, and Islamophobia, exacerbated by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
The report, co-authored by Dr Hina J Shahid, a GP who chairs the Muslim Doctors Association and Hira Ali, who co-founded The Grey Area and currently leads on their Diversity & Inclusion, titled the report, “Excluded on the Frontline: Discrimination, Racism and Islamophobia in the NHS.”
Critical findings reveal that almost nine in 10 Muslim HCPs surveyed did not know of any Muslims in leadership roles, as over two-thirds could not identify relatable and supportive mentors and role models to boost their confidence about career progression.
Almost four in 10 surveyed described facing verbal abuse from colleagues about their Islamic faith – compounding the bias they also face from patients.
Bias, however, the authors noted follows Muslim HCPs from medical school and further into their carers.
A vast majority of Muslim HCPs (eight out of 10) surveyed described a “double jeopardy” around their safety when acts of terrorism make headlines.
Microaggressions in the workplace target specific and multiple aspects of their religious identity, with a majority, also reporting how ‘othering’ and stereotype threat harms their ability to be their true, authentic selves at work.
The consequences for Muslim HCPs weigh heavy on them mentally and physically – manifesting as depression, anxiety, imposter syndrome, low self-esteem, a fear of failure – with almost half of respondents described compromising their religious beliefs (associated with moral injury and distress).
As a consequence of the above, two-thirds do not feel comfortable disclosing workplace problems.
Workplace bias extended to the feeling that one in five missed out on promotion due to their Islamic faith, with more than two in five describing bias in the recruitment process with similar levels reported during medical school, and crucially, over half reported feeling that bias impeded their career progression and daily duties.
Regarding the sources of bias, the authors noted that some polled faced multiple biases – from patients, nurses and other doctors to line managers.
Almost half of Muslim HCPs reported facing verbal abuse, with three in 10 reporting hostility directed towards them because of their faith. Issues arose over fasting during the holy month of Ramadan or taking prayer breaks.
Despite the myriad issues the report exposes, over half (six in 10) reported optimism about their futures.
Those surveyed overwhelmingly favoured a mentorship to help them tackle disadvantage and discrimination. A clear majority (7 out of 10) felt a faith network within the workplace would help as just over half believed that self-empowerment and leadership training programmes would aid them.
The report also presents many pathways forward the “The 4As of active support” – identified as authentic allyship, advocacy, action and accountability.
That twelve-point action plan begins on an individual level (with self-reflection and questioning the assumptions each holds) to meaningful changes in leadership. The authors call for authentic leadership and representation in senior roles born not from tokenism but on the competency, capability, and credibility to meet the role requirements, with the resources and agency to perform their roles effectively, adding that “spotlight events” create platforms for personal narratives of organisational success to foster better inclusion.
Other recommendations include spaces for a constructive, inclusive working environment that incorporates bystander training and unconscious bias training for staff and management.
Celebrating differences, including interfaith events and normalising religious practices, helps reduce stigma and othering, with non-Muslim staff fasting during Ramadan as a positive force for building mutuality and compassion. And this extends to creating interfaith buddy schemes and improved peer support networks.
The report calls for the expansion of faith-specific counselling for Muslim staff, the development of faith-based equality standards and accessible training programmes. An intersectional framework is a crucial way forward in helping NHS trusts and organisations move forward when conducting equalities assessments.
Nor are the issues of structural racism new in the health service.
The public is encouraged to download our free tool kit which addresses workplace discrimination issues, workplace rights, and what support is available. You can download it here.