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The Black Man, the Asperger, the NHS and its Bigots...

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In case you think the atrocious treatment of learning-disabled patients at Winterbourne View care home was a one-off blip, or if you think that organisations today would never cover up Jimmy Savile's alleged activities the way they did thirty or forty years ago...

In 2008, the Race Equality Services Review, an analysis by the Health Service Journal of a report about the experiences of black and ethnic minorities (BME) in the National Health Service (South East Coast region) concluded there was institutionalised racism within the NHS as a whole.

In 2009, after the deaths of six learning-disabled patients in the care of the NHS, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman's report Six lives: the provision of public services to people with learning disabilities said (among other things) that "fundamental principles were not being upheld ... an underlying culture which values human rights was not in place." Regarding complaint handling, the Ombudsman stated that the families "gave repeated examples of failures to understand their complaints ... defensive explanations; a failure to address the heart of the complaint; and a reluctance to offer apologies. Our investigations generally confirmed this picture." The Ombudsman finished by saying, "we are still left with an underlying concern that similar failures to those identified in the investigations will occur again."

In a Facebook debate in July 2010, David Forster, a director of the Yorkshire Ambulance Service, wrote that they had employed "too many who are lazy, unproductive, obstinate, militant, aggressive at every turn and who couldn't secure a job anywhere outside the bloated public sector where mediocrity is too often shielded by weak and unprincipled HR policies."

I saw people just like that. David Forster was right, and for his honesty he was disciplined by NHS management because, as NHS surgeon Sir Roy Calne stated in the Daily Mail in July 2007:

"...as a result of the justified furore over nurses' poor pay, the unions have become stronger. Management dare not offend them, which means that when they should be disciplining staff who cut corners on hygiene or who work ineffectively, they instead hide behind the tangle of employment law to avoid confrontation."

You might think this article is biased and derives from prejudice, but I am an Asperger, I worked in the NHS with a black man who'd come to the UK from Africa, and these public quotes exactly match our private experiences. I was driven to the brink of a nervous breakdown while my black colleague was pushed completely out of work and onto the dole for three years. The NHS even fobbed him off when he asked for a reference, which he has not received to this day.

We both worked in an office where the staff, as beautifully defined by Guardian writer Lynsey Hanley in an article about her book Estates: an intimate history "were warm towards others who looked and acted exactly like them, but unforgiving, going on vicious, with anyone who didn't."

For example, I witnessed the way a fellow staff-member talked to my black colleague when this officer thought he had made a mistake with the stationery.

First, some back story. My grandparents once lived in Africa themselves and they did have black servants. I neither condone this nor condemn it. It is simply history.

At the time, there was one cast-iron rule in any well-run household: never, ever humiliate a servant, because they could not answer back.

Unfortunately, some households were run by families who had emigrated from poor parts of Britain. In Africa, even poor households could afford black servants, and when people from the slums suddenly found themselves able to lord it over others they abused the privilege, ignored the cast-iron rule and treated their servants like slaves. Other whites looked down on them and I consider them the scum of the earth.

So this officer marched into the office, marched up to my colleague, accused him of making a mistake with the stationery (which he had not done), and as he tried to explain this, the officer talked over him, talked down to him and waggled a finger under his chin as if he was a dumb six-year-old. All this took place in front of several other people.

He was a man of 48, and far brighter than the officer. I was filing notes four feet away from them. I saw it all, and I've never been more ashamed of being British. These people were intolerant of anyone who was in any way unlike them, acted as if they had the God-given right to declaim loudly and endlessly about any subject under the sun, and were unforgiving of anyone who disagreed with them.

People with autism are usually unable to filter out extraneous noise, and my other colleagues insisted on playing a radio non-stop all day every day. After a while it became literal torture for me to listen to it, but despite bringing this matter to the attention of NHS management, nothing was ever done. I eventually referred myself to Occupational Health and was signed off for six months.

Regarding the behaviour of my fellow members-of-staff, my consultant stated that "they have poor educational qualifications" and "they don't know any better."

Never in the field of human history have so many pathetic excuses been made by so many (not so few) for so many. Jimmy Savile would have been very safe in today's NHS.

Again, most people with autism need routines and a daily framework to function without suffering severe stress. I was left hanging for six months and did indeed come to the brink of a nervous breakdown. I was seconded to another post at the last minute.

People with autism also have much higher levels of fear and anxiety than most. In my case the effect was like brain damage.

I was left with a shaking right hand, a brain which worked even more slowly than it had before and, on occasion, slurred speech.

It took me eighteen months to recover.

Meanwhile my black colleague found another job in another part of the NHS and felt like he'd escaped the lousy situation he was in, but he'd only swapped the frying pan for the fire. Every single member of staff in his new office was (in his own words) "a malicious bigot." After five gruesome months, he was in very bad condition and the unendurable strain was damaging him psychologically and spilling over into his family life. Despite several pleas to management, the NHS appeared unwilling to control its own staff and he finally resigned in desperation.

Without a reference.

He was unemployed for three years.

He and I have good reason to believe that the NHS is indeed institutionally racist, and not a fit and proper employer of either the learning-disabled or people from black or ethnic minority backgrounds.

The NHS is supposed to be the caring profession, but he and I no longer think they care.

Not long ago, my black friend said to me:

"I have seen corruption, violence and injustice in Africa; but neither my wife nor myself had ever witnessed such utterly disgusting and xenophobic behaviour from people until I came to work for the NHS."

Such behaviour and such cover-ups are not a blip. O brave new world, that's so very like the old one...

James Christie

James Christie is the author of Dear Miss Landau. He was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, a mild form of autism, at the age of 37 in 2002. He lives and works in Glasgow.

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