OPINION
11/09/2020 13:20 BST

Uncovering The Reality Of Islamophobia In The NHS Shocked Me In A Way I Wasn't Expecting

I had little doubt abuse was rife, but what I hadn't foreseen were the types of people dishing it out, writes HuffPost UK's Aasma Day.

MartinPrescott via Getty Images
Doctor or surgeon stood in hospital ward using digital tablet

As a journalist, I have often thought of myself as unshockable. Spending years documenting the more disturbing sides of human behaviour, and events, it often feels that you’ve seen it all.

So when I set out to investigate the incidence of Islamophobia in the NHS, I was prepared to hear dispiriting accounts of Muslim healthcare workers being subjected to slurs from patients in the line of duty.

But what I wasn’t expecting was to uncover a far bigger, and often hidden, issue within the NHS – the prejudice faced by Muslim medics on a daily basis from their own colleagues and bosses.

When it came to abuse from patients, many of the Muslim NHS staff I interviewed shrugged their shoulders and dishearteningly accepted it as an inevitable reality.

However the Islamophobia directed at medics by those who work alongside them had a very different impact. 

Those I spoke to described it as “covert” and “insidious”.

Even worse, many of these Islamophobic incidents go completely under the radar as it is disguised as “banter” or “just a joke.”

These “jokes” included describing someone as looking like a terrorist, taunting them for not eating bacon or drinking alcohol, or asking them if they’re planning to join Isis.

How the same people who strive together in the common goal of improving and saving lives, could inflict this kind of vitriol on their colleagues, was something that truly horrified me.

And coming amid the coronavirus pandemic, when so many Muslim medical staff have put themselves in the firing line by risking their own lives to save others, is another major kick in the teeth. 

Let’s not forget the first NHS doctors to die of coronavirus on the frontline were Muslim.

Many non-Muslim NHS staff might not even realise that their off-the-cuff remarks might be viewed as Islamophobic.

While some of the incidents recounted are downright discrimination and bullying, others are more inconspicuous – and by that very nature more dangerous as difficult to prove. From the rolling of eyes, to being excluded from nights out, and backhanded compliments telling someone they speak “Good English” – even when they’ve been born and brought up in the UK.

Those who are visibly Muslim, such as women wearing hijabs, divulged they were particularly susceptible to Islamophobia – from being treated with the stereotype they are less educated to being denied training opportunities and career progression to being yelled at for entering theatre with a hijab on.

Many non-Muslim NHS staff might not even realise that their off-the-cuff remarks might be viewed as Islamophobic.

But the Muslim NHS workers I spoke to described the profound and lasting effect of such a constant sense of “othering” and not belonging, and said it makes them feel they’re always on the outside looking in, no matter how hard they work.

Many highlighted that “it’s not about being brown” even though plenty of racism also occurs in the NHS, but suggested that among some colleagues, there is an anti-Muslim agenda as rising Islamophobia in society seeps into the NHS.

As one expert so eloquently put it, NHS professionals are “just people” and wearing a white coat doesn’t make them immune to holding prejudices, behaving in a discriminatory manner, or unconscious bias – and neither does being middle class or well educated.

This is a real issue affecting real people in the NHS for simply trying to do their job. It needs to be tackled and shouldn’t be minimised or brushed under the carpet.

 

It was deeply disturbing to hear of the widespread Islamophobia endured by those working in the NHS, an organisation made up of such a diverse workforce – although as many pointed out, lacking in Muslim and BAME senior leaders at the top.

It comes as no surprise that the cumulative drip-feed effect of such constant battering has led to 43% of Muslims we surveyed admitting they have considered leaving the NHS due to Islamophobia.

Islamophobia in the NHS is completely unacceptable in any form – whether it’s blatant, covert or subtle. No one should be abused, disadvantaged or discriminated against for their faith or belief when coming to work.

This is a real issue affecting real people in the NHS for simply trying to do their job. It needs to be tackled and shouldn’t be minimised or brushed under the carpet.

Most importantly of all, those experiencing it need to be given a voice, listened to and believed.

Aasma Day is north of England correspondent at HuffPost UK