A trust of the U.K.’s National Health Service (NHS) has unveiled a new policy under which it may withdraw treatment from patients deemed racist or sexist.
The North Bristol NHS Trust announced the launch of its “Red Card to Racism” campaign, which aims to protect staff from discrimination.
The policy establishes a “sports-style” disciplinary system in which patients receive a yellow card and eventually a red card for offenses.
Once a patient receives a red card, his or her treatment is withdrawn “as soon as is safe.”
“Any visitors causing disturbance or behaving in an unacceptable manner will get one verbal warning before being removed,” the North Bristol NHS Trust’s website reads.
The types of behavior classified as “abusive” include “racist or sexist language, gestures or behavior” and “malicious allegations.”
The prohibition of “malicious allegations” alone may be a possible source of concern for patients, considering NHS’s previous malpractice scandals in which staff initially denied the accusations, such as a 2018 case in which 456 patients died after the unjustified administration of opioids.
Regarding the “Red Card to Racism” program, North Bristol NHS Trust Chief Executive Andrea Young said:
We have staff from many different backgrounds, from all over the world, and we pride ourselves on our commitment to equality which is a fundamental value of the NHS.
We’re sending a strong signal that any racism or discrimination is completely unacceptable — we want staff to challenge and report it and we want everyone to know that it will have consequences.
According to the trust, the change is motivated by an allegedly growing number of incidents of racism. Cases of offensive behavior will be reported “on the trust’s incident management system and on patients’ individual notes.”
The trust is promoting the program by putting up posters around the hospital and publishing photos and videos on social media that encourage staff to speak up if they witness racism or discrimination on-site, assuring them they are protected by the policy.
The hospital is also encouraging staff to join its Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Network as a way of providing support to any affected staff.
Alex Raikes with Stand Against Racism & Inequality (SARI), a U.K.-based group that “provides support and advice to victims of hate,” said:
SARI is working with a number of hospital trusts regarding racist incidents towards staff and patients, and is pleased to be supporting a dedicated working group at NBT in enforcing the zero tolerance approach towards racism and hate crime.
It is crucial that hospitals are safe, respectful and inclusive environments, and that all the hard-working employees’ feel fully supported when they face such abuse.
It’s great to see NBT putting out the strongest message possible to the wider community about the abhorrence of any forms of discrimination against their staff or visitors.
The policy as currently announced does not make clear how low the bar lies for determining whether behavior is sufficiently offensive to merit a patient’s withdrawal.
In a highly publicized case from 2017, a female NHS patient complained when she requested a female nurse to carry out a cervical smear only for the hospital to send a person with “an obviously male appearance … close-cropped hair, a male facial appearance and voice, large number of tattoos and facial stubble.”
When the patient pointed out what she believed to be a mistake, the nurse replied, “My gender is not male. I’m a transsexual.”
In that case, the patient forewent the cervical smear, but ultimately received an apology from the Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust.