‘Institutional culture of racism’ warning in East of England Ambulance Service report

Among the incidents witnessed by area ambulance service personnel was a request to translate “gobbledygook” and mimic monkey sounds and blackface at a work costume party.

It comes after the East of England Ambulance Service’s NHS Trust (EEAST) commissioned an equality, diversity and inclusion consultancy to produce a report on the experiences of its Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) staff last year.

McKenzie LLP, which undertook the research and advisory project, concluded that the findings point to risks in the “possibility of a historical and institutional culture of racism within the Middle East”.

translation request "devour"Among the incidents witnessed by area ambulance service personnel is simulating monkey noises and blackface at a costume party for work.  Image: iStock
Incidents witnessed by District Ambulance Service personnel include being asked to translate the word “gobbledygook” and imitating monkey sounds and blackface at a work costume party. Image: iStock

During August to October last year, all BME staff at EEAST, covering Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Essex, were invited to complete an anonymous survey; join a focus group/confidential discussion; and a one-on-one telephone interview with a counselor.

A total of 58 of the 120 selected employees answered the questionnaire—a response rate of 48 percent. Twenty-six employees also participated in a one-on-one confidential telephone interview.

The report highlights the special experiences of employees within the workforce.

Someone said that “the assumptions are based on the color of your skin,” for example when they were asked to translate for someone who spoke Arabic.

The reason for the request is that I “sound like one of them.” They added that I don’t even speak Asian – Arabic doesn’t matter.

Another person recounted a similar incident and said, “I was asked, ‘Can you talk to them while they are talking dogs?'” “.

The person the manager was referring to spoke Punjabi – not a language I actually speak.

“It is only assumed that if you are ‘colored’, you all come from the same place and speak the same language.”

A Muslim employee recalled how people would “openly joke” to groups of other colleagues about eating in front of them during Ramadan, when they could not eat or drink for 18 hours a day.

Another employee talked about how someone would wear blackface at a work party.

They said, “Complaints and issues are dismissed in the sense that the trust reduces and holds things.”

A total of 58 out of 120 BME staff at EEAST responded to the survey.  Image: iStock
A total of 58 out of 120 BME staff at EEAST responded to the survey. Image: iStock

“An example of this is when she made a complaint about a manager whose husband had painted himself black and dressed as Mr. T to attend an EEAST costume party. Nothing was done.”

Others said they felt there was no way for BME staff to advance within EEAST.

One person said, “I wouldn’t bother trying to go for a promotion as if I did it would be seen as a box exercise.”

“Anyway, no one will respect me. I know only one BME station manager in Eastern Europe and there are hundreds of station managers.”

Another said: “There is no clear career progression for BME staff. This needs to change.”

The report also mentioned several cases of employees who felt that older employees needed to “get rid of old-fashioned and outdated behaviours”.

In conclusion, McKenzie LLP said that while there have been many references to the “old school” group in Old Eastern European values, it remains “not convinced” that older workers are the root cause of the entire situation within EEAST.

“We believe the results of this exercise could be indicative of a more general and unchallenged core culture of xenophobia (aversion to difference) in some ‘pockets’ of employees who trust them,” she added.

Consultants also made a number of recommendations to the fund, including that it provide mandatory comprehensive training in language and dignity at work for all staff, and develop an improved system for reporting problems.

The report’s author, deputy director of culture and leadership Lauren Singleton, said the survey’s content made it difficult to read.

“There is evidence of very outdated behaviors and attitudes among a minority of managers,” she said.

“There could be a negative impact on the Trust’s reputation as a safe and positive place to work, which could be seen as undermining the good work done around the EHRC and CQC in recent months.”

EEAST CEO Tom Appel has since apologized to employees who experienced “inappropriate behaviour” and said such behavior would be “eradicated” from the trust.

Tom Appel, CEO, EEAST
Tom Appel, CEO, EEAST

“We carried out this independent research to better understand the working lives of our colleagues. It shows that there have been some cases of inappropriate behavior in trusts and I am sorry to all my colleagues who have experienced this.

“I am clear that such behavior has no place in our trust and will be eradicated.”

Appel said the trust has a broad plan to tackle the behavior and make EEAST a more inclusive place to work.

He added: “We have made good progress in improving our culture – as evidenced by our recent Improvement Report from the Care Quality Commission.”

“We would like to thank everyone involved in the research and colleagues who continue to call out this type of behavior.”

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