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‘Pharmacy bodies need safe platforms for reporting racism’

"This culture of not reporting racism needs to be squashed"

Accounts of racism in the pharmacy raised during C+D’s webinar highlight the urgent need for ways for victims to report racism, says Naimah Callachand

This year has thrown up a lot of challenges for pharmacy staff, particularly those who are black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME). Racial disparities have been brought to the forefront during the COVID-19 crisis and it’s important to act while there is momentum. I discussed ways of tackling racism in pharmacy with five experts in a C+D webinar last Thursday.

Already having seen some of the upsetting and quite frankly horrifying responses to C+D’s racism survey, I was unsurprised to hear some of the comments that Alima Batchelor, head of policy at the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA), shared with us from her organisation’s survey on abuse.

Alima said the results were “depressing”. One comment struck home with me in particular – about a patient telling staff in a pharmacy that they should “go back to [their] countries”. During my career, I’ve received similar comments, such as being told to “go back to where you come from”.

I was born and brought up in the UK, although, like many of my pharmacy colleagues, I’m mixed-race. Being told to “go back” is just the tip of the iceberg of the racial abuse that BAME staff face in pharmacy.

Pharmacy team members are often expected to turn the other cheek while receiving comments such as these. This doesn’t sit right with me. Ade Williams, superintendent pharmacist of Bedminster Pharmacy in Bristol, quite rightly said in the webinar that individuals are expected to “present a professional façade” despite the “trauma” of racist abuse from patients and colleagues.

As a profession, we should present a united front against racism from anyone. Pharmacy is a highly educated profession that values itself upon being inclusive. It’s disheartening to see that 56% of BAME pharmacy staff have experienced racism at least once in the last six months from colleagues.

How can we improve the education of our pharmacy team? Are there fundamental learning points that should be incorporated into the undergraduate teaching of pharmacy professionals? Once they have qualified, should this be reinforced as mandatory training in the workplace?

By educating pharmacists and pharmacy teams from the offset, we can help to create safe and inclusive environments. To paraphrase what Lola Dabiri, the Scotland and Northern Ireland lead for the UK Black Pharmacists Association, said in the webinar, continuous education will help put a stop to racial complacency.

Some people just aren’t aware of the microaggressions that can cause so much distress. These little things that fly under the radar can build a hostile environment for BAME staff. For example, my whole career I’ve had difficulties with my Arabic name, Naimah – I’ve had comments like, “Niamh, Naomi, or whatever your name is”.

By changing how we talk about things we’re not familiar with, we can ensure everyone feels welcome and safe in the pharmacy. If you’re confused about the pronunciation, simple statements such as “I’m sorry I didn’t catch your name, would you mind repeating it for me?” can go a long way.

One key theme from the webinar was that pharmacy teams should feel safe and confident to come forward to report any forms of racial abuse without fear of retribution. Mohammed Hussain, senior clinical lead at NHS Digital, described how the victims of racism are often relatively junior employees, meaning they are much less likely to come forward.

Now is the time for pharmacy bodies to provide a safe platform that pharmacists can turn to for reporting racism. This culture of non-reporting needs to be squashed. We need to create an environment of openness and honesty, where colleagues can feel like they can step in to help if need be.

Hopefully, this is just the start of this important conversation, one that will require commitment from educational institutions, pharmacy bodies and regulators to ensure that all pharmacy staff are treated equally and can feel safe in their working environment.

Naimah Callachand is C+D clinical editor

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