Racial hatred and discrimination 'must not be allowed to fester in the workplace', said NHS chief executive Sir Alan Langlands. He called for 'coherent action, not isolated initiatives' to address the issue.

He said the NHS Executive would look at its own processes in the light of the Macpherson recommendations following the Stephen Lawrence inquiry.

'Black and ethnic minorities suffer disadvantage not only as a result of overt discrimination but also as a result of systemic failure to address their needs,' Sir Alan said.

He cited the inclusion of black and ethnic minority issues in national service frameworks as evidence that the topic was 'at the heart of the NHS agenda and not a bolt-on'.