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Call for urgent need to rectify racism disparities in pharmacy workforce

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Pharmacists from BAME backgrounds still face higher levels of discrimination, harassment, bullying, and career obstacles compared to their white counterparts, the Pharmacy Workforce Race Equality Standard (PWRES) report has revealed. Published by NHSE England, this report underscores the persistent presence of inequality, emphasising the crucial need for all stakeholders in the pharmacy sector to prioritise addressing these issues.

The PWRES report indicates that pharmacy team members of Black ethnic backgrounds are less likely to perceive equal opportunities for career advancement or promotion within their trust. Additionally, female pharmacy team members from BAME backgrounds report higher incidents of personal discrimination in the workplace. The report also highlights an overrepresentation of pharmacy technicians from BAME backgrounds in lower-paid roles.

“It is shocking and unacceptable to see that across all indicators the BME staff experience is worse than their white counterparts,” said Tase Oputu, Chair of RPS in England.

“Now we have the baseline data, in-depth work must begin to tackle the issues and improve the situation. All trusts should prioritise examining their own workforce data against this report and implement an immediate action plan so we start to see real change,” added Oputu, who is also the Chair of English Pharmacy Board.

According to the PWRES findings, England had a total of 51,440 pharmacists and 20,768 pharmacy technicians as of March 2022. Among these, NHS trusts employed 11,396 pharmacists and 8,443 pharmacy technicians. During this period, 43.3 per cent (4,934) of pharmacists and 19.2 per cent (1,625) of pharmacy technicians within NHS trusts hailed from a BAME background.

Racism embedded in the workforce

The PWRES report is the first-ever comprehensive examination of the representation, discrimination, and experiences of BAME pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, and the wider pharmacy team within the NHS.

Oputu emphasised that issues of race and racism have long been entrenched in the workforce, often dismissed and overlooked, resulting in systemic disadvantages, discrimination, and harm within the workplace.

“The report provides evidence of the inequalities present across the secondary care system and I hope it will create a sea change for colleagues working in NHS as the trauma of racial abuse is finally recognised,” she added.

“It’s vital our colleagues working in primary care and community are not forgotten,” Oputu said.  “The Community Pharmacy Workforce Survey will be an opportunity to assess and report on the inequalities they face.”

The PWRES report called on pharmacy professionals and team members in community pharmacy and general practices to engage with national organizations as part of the IPP partnership, and to assess their data, taking similar action.

“It’s positive to see NHS England’s own delivery plan published alongside the report to stimulate action and drive organisational change,” said Amandeep Doll, Head of Engagement and Professional Belonging, RPS England.

“The WRES data clearly shows that BAME pharmacists are underrepresented at senior levels relative to their presence in the profession,” Doll added. “It is crucial that equal and fair opportunities for career advancement, as well as equitable treatment throughout recruitment and retention processes, are provided to each and every person in the pharmacy team.”

The ultimate goal is for employers in all environments to drive the positive changes we seek in career progression, discrimination, and racism, guaranteeing that every colleague receives the respect and fairness they deserve. This way, we harness the full potential and expertise of our diverse pharmacy workforce, the report added.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health and Social Care has recently increased travel and accommodation allowances by 50 per cent for students in several healthcare fields, but notably excluded pharmacy students. In response, three prominent pharmacy organisations, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, British Pharmaceutical Students’ Association, and Pharmacy Schools Council, have united in urging the government to extend equal access to the NHS learning support fund (LSF) for pharmacy students, aligning with other healthcare professions.

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