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Two reports highlight racism in UK health sector

The UK health research charity Wellcome has a culture of institutional racism while a prominent London medical school supported and benefited from the British Empire’s subjugation of people of colour, according to separate reports.

The Social Investment Consultancy and The Better Org carried out research at the request of Wellcome, which has an investment portfolio of £38.2bn (R622bn). It found that “deeply rooted cultural and structural deficits” resulted in systemic racism that disproportionately impacts non-White employees.

Wellcome’s director, Jeremy Farrar, apologised for the findings in an online statement. “We know that Wellcome has great power,” he said. “We have done too little to use this power to counter racial inequity in research.”

A separate report published on Thursday found that the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine “owed its existence and development” in 1899 to research and funding that focused on treating White colonialists rather than the local populations. 

The UK’s science and medical industries are facing a reckoning over their links to racism in the past and present, two years after making commitments to equality in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement after George Floyd’s murder in 2020. 

The Wellcome report, published on Wednesday, found that the two main initiatives of its antiracism programme “have so far failed to have a positive impact.” Half of the employees identifying as Black or people of colour who spoke to researchers felt that decisions on promotions and performance were not made fairly. A quarter said they had experienced discrimination or unfair treatment. 

The findings have ramifications for the wider research industry that Wellcome funds, according to the report. 

In response, Wellcome said it would establish a funding stream specifically for researchers who are Black and people of colour and foster diversity in its application process for grants. 

The author of the report into the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine’s history, Lioba Hirsch, said she hoped the organisation would now realise that the way it operates today and how it treat workers of colour “does not occur in a vacuum.” 

“The important thing now is what happens next,” she said.

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