Exclusive: Health board forced to apologise for ‘racist’ internal memo warning staff about Travellers

Written by Tom Freeman on 18 October 2018 in News

NHS NSS warned staff to be “vigilant” after a Travelling community settled near its Gyle campus in August

NHS NSS HQ at Gyle Square - Holyrood

One of Scotland’s special health boards has apologised after it advised staff not to approach a local Travelling community.

An internal memo to staff at NHS National Services Scotland’s Edinburgh Gyle campus in August said the organisation was going to lock all facilities for the weekend after being “made aware of the presence of a travelling community in the local area”.

The memo, issued from NHS NSS communications on Friday 31 August at 2.30pm, advised staff: “If you have a car in the car park, please make sure you have moved it by 8pm this evening.

“If approached consider avoiding dialogue with the travelling community members to prevent any possible issues

“Be vigilant on access and security to the building and site, reporting any breaches immediately.”

At 5.30 the same team issued an apology, which read: “We’d like to apologise for any offence caused by the recent communication that was circulated today, entitled ‘Gyle Square gates will be locked from 8pm this evening’. This was not the intention.”

However it confirmed the site’s gates would still be closed for the weekend.

Holyrood understands a number of staff complained about the discriminatory tone in the email and raised it with trade union representatives, and an apology was sent later in the day.

Travellers have condemned the memo for using “racist and discriminatory stereotypes”, while the board has told Holyrood those responsible have been given additional training

Traveller activist and advocate Davie Donaldson said he was “shocked and disturbed” by the wording of the initial memo, and said he hoped those responsible would be held to account for using “false stereotypes.”

“There is no excuse for the propagation of racist and discriminatory stereotypes against any community,” he told Holyrood.

“The Gypsy/Traveller communities in Scotland face many inequalities, not least in regards to health and access to healthcare services.

“The reality is that false stereotypes of Gypsy/Travellers mean that on a regular basis I am contacted by mothers who tell me midwifes have refused to visit them because they live on a Gypsy/Traveller site; worried daughters who tell me of how ambulances have refused to come onto camps to help the elderly who have collapsed; and pregnant women who have been turned away from A&E and GP's because of their ethnicity.”

Donaldson said he had “greatest respect” for the staff who complained about the memo.

A spokesman for NHS National Services Scotland told Holyrood: “We deeply regret the content of that email which did not meet our required standards around equality, diversity and inclusion and is not reflective of our views as an organisation. An apology was issued very quickly and additional training has been put in place.

“NHS National Services Scotland (NSS) aims to be a leading organisation for promoting equality, diversity and inclusion and, as such, it is mandatory for all staff to undertake Equality and Diversity training every three years. 

“We have very successful staff equality networks who help shape and develop equality approaches for NSS, and we will continue to build on this. 

“However, as an organisation we will learn lessons from this situation to ensure that this does not happen again.”

NHS NSS provides support services throughout the NHS in Scotland, including immunisation programmes, data intelligence, blood services and legal support.

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