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How to deal with racial discrimination in a pharmacy

The RPS and Pharmacist Support have helplines for pharmacy professionals to call
The RPS and Pharmacist Support have helplines for pharmacy professionals to call

Reporting racial discrimination in the pharmacy can result in a conversation with your manager or an employment tribunal

Pharmacy professionals across the UK have spoken out about a variety of experiences of racial discrimination in the workplace in the wake of global Black Lives Matter protests. Examples range from colleagues making assumptions about their character to lower levels of empathy, from physical abuse to being excluded from work events.

Every act of racial discrimination in the workplace, whether intentional or accidental, is illegal under the Equality Act 2010. The overwhelming majority of these acts pass by unquestioned, but you have options on how to react.

The first step is keeping a record with as much detail as possible about any incident that has affected you. Where did it happen, when, what was the context, what was the exact phrasing of any words used?

Then you could talk in private with your line manager to make it clear that you have suffered because of a colleague’s actions. This may be sufficient to prevent the discrimination from recurring. Your manager should investigate the complaint promptly, interviewing the perpetrators where possible. This may result in an internal disciplinary hearing.

However, talking to your manager may feel inappropriate – the discrimination may require taking further action, your line manager may be inaccessible, or talking may not yield the results you wanted. It is important to create an environment where employees are comfortable coming forward with issues when they arise, but this does not always happen. The next option is using your employer’s grievance procedure. This is a formal way to complain about your employer.

Employers must set out a grievance procedure by law that is available for staff to read. This may be in your staff handbook or statement of employment, but you may need to ask someone at the company such as another manager or HR to find it or the contact details of someone to whom you can send a complaint.

There are several steps in a grievance procedure, from raising it to deciding an outcome. These steps are laid out by independent public body the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas).

The third option is making a claim to an employment tribunal. This is a last resort if you feel the other two routes are unsuitable for you.

To begin an employment tribunal you must contact Acas. They will first offer you the option of early conciliation to help you resolve the issue without the time and stress of a tribunal. A claim must usually be made within three months of the incident for the tribunal to go ahead.

An employment tribunal victory for you could result in your company paying you compensation. If you have followed the process carefully, you should be able to avoid paying costs yourself.

However, before making a claim, you should talk to advisors about the best way of getting what you want.

Who to talk to

Citizens Advice

Citizens Advice is a network of independent charities offering confidential advice online, over the phone or in person in one of their centres. Contact its advisors for guidance on what to do about any level of discrimination.

View the Citizens Advice contact page here.


Acas explains on its website exactly how to handle the grievance procedure. Call the helpline to talk through your options for handling discrimination. You will have to contact Acas if you are considering an employment tribunal.

Acas helpline: 0300 123 1100.


The Equality Advisory & Support Service (EASS) is a government-funded helpline for advising individuals on resolving discrimination disputes.

In some instances, it may write to a company on behalf of an individual in order to initiate a resolution.

EASS helpline: 0808 800 0082.

Pharmacy bodies

Pharmacy organisations offer industry insiders’ knowledge on how pharmacy professionals can handle discrimination.


Pharmacy professionals can raise concerns about the behaviour of colleagues or their employer via the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC)’s online form.


The Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s statement of support for BAME individuals published on June 29 requests that pharmacy professionals reach out to help the society “to listen, learn, become allies [because] we want to understand what change the profession needs going forward” via email: [email protected].

The RPS also offers support on ethics for members via email [email protected] and its helpline 0207 572 2737.


The National Pharmacy Association (NPA) membership includes an employment service with guidance on discrimination and equality via email [email protected] and phone 0330 123 0558.

Pharmacist Support

The charity Pharmacist Support’s Listening Friends telephone service offers mental health support to pharmacists affected by discrimination.

Pharmacist Support helpline: 0808 168 5133


The UK Black Pharmacists Association (UKBPA) supports pharmacists, pre-registration pharmacists and pharmacy students who identify as black, offering support on work difficulties.

UKBPA email: [email protected]

PDA BAME network

The Pharmacists Defence Association Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (PDA BAME) Pharmacists Network was launched in April to focus on issues relevant to pharmacists of these ethnicities. View the PDA BAME website here.

Members of the PDA Union can ask for pharmacy-specific legal advice by calling 0121 694 7017 or emailing [email protected].

Have you experienced discrimination in the pharmacy?

R G, Pharmacist Director

GPhC are not so brilliant when it comes to matters of colour. Enquire under FOI the percentages of BAME pharmacists on the register and compare to the percentage of cases where BAMEs are called to task by GPhC for similar if not the same infringements as nonBAME pharmacists. It will show an interesting trend over the years. 

Nigel Diment, Industrial pharmacist

With the recent public focus on Black Lives Matter - it may be co-incidence  or someone wishing to make an inappropriate point. For the fist time in 40 years as a pharmacist I recently was aware of a patient who refused to be served by a BAME colleague when handing out their Rx. I suspect that the pharmacy do no have the same right of refusal as I suspect this would be against the terms of our NHS contract. Whilst I supported the colleague at the time - we were both clearly shocked. Any advice on how best to deal with such an situation.  

Mark Boland, Pharmaceutical Adviser

'For the fist time in 40 years as a pharmacist I recently was aware of a patient who refused to be served by a BAME colleague when handing out their Rx. I suspect that the pharmacy do no have the same right of refusal as I suspect this would be against the terms of our NHS contract. Whilst I supported the colleague at the time - we were both clearly shocked. Any advice on how best to deal with such an situation' 

You are not refusing a service, the patient is refusing your service based on the race of an employee. The patient can either accept the service provided by the said colleague or they can find another pharmacy.

You can signpost the patient to NHS England statements from the Equality and Diversity Council, stating 'employees from black and minority ethnic backgrounds have equal access to receive fair treatment in the work place'. There is no obligation for any service provider to indulge the racist attitudes of any patient.

With regards to pharmacist support (in general), I have found the RPS to be useless, the GPhC to be focused on investigating accusations against pharmacists and employers only interested in keeping the customer happy. The PDA have time and again shown their brilliance in supporting pharmacists and so I would highly recommend contacting them.


Soon-To-Be Ex-Pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

You're quite right Mark. If the patient chooses to go without their medication because of a persons race you can't force them to accept. However, you also have no obligation whatsoever to supply someone of a colour acceptable to the patient, so if said patient suffers, a) good and b) their problem not ours. There is also in this case a recourse to the police I would have thought because overt racism like this is illegal and has been for some time.

Benie Locum, Locum pharmacist

Sandra Gidley as head of an organisation handling racial matters should be interesting after her mask slipped on twitter recently.......

Seal Patel, Community pharmacist

Why are we talking about racial discrimination now? This conversation should have been had years ago!! Nothing is going to change, in pharmacy the levels of race exist but item count and otc sales are most important. Cases of patient racially discrimination is high, but as usual with no active support or the chance of any sort of outcome is so low we are told to just accept it.

We have a weak leadership board and people at the top in charge who do not actually listen to the collective whole, posting an article like this just shows c+d just jumping on a bandwagon to show support to a current cause. If the bodies in charge cared they would have taken action years ago.

Soon-To-Be Ex-Pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

In my experience, you get thoroughly shat on in pharmacy regardless of what colour you are.

Benie Locum, Locum pharmacist

Jumping on the bandwagon but strangley silent on Sandra Gidley's recent 'incident' on twitter. 

Career Miss Take, Locum pharmacist

I experienced it as a phamacy student. I distinctly remember a student who now has a prominent position in a school  of pharmacy asking of my cohabitants " who was that black Paki sitting next to ***. Racism is a primitive trait in society whether  you are a pharmacist or customer.

Soon-To-Be Ex-Pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

Love your username!

This is an awful incident and unfortunately still far too common. I don't know what people get out of it either - it just makes the person doing it sound, as you say, primitive. Trouble is, thats what a lot of humans still are - we are evolved as a tribal species (nearest relatives are chimps and they wage war just like we do) and thats what we revert to when faced with anything 'different'. I am ashamed to say that I have used racist language in the past, not because I am racist but because when I was raised, in the 1970s, it was seen as the norm - the Black and White Minstrel Show was one of the most popular things on telly which says it all. All I can say to you is that things are genuinely better now than they were then so hang on in there. There is hope that this thing will die once the rest of my generation have popped their clogs!

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