Patients who ask to be treated by a white doctor should be told ‘no’, health and social care secretary Matt Hancock has told NHS staff. 

In a letter sent to all NHS staff this morning he adds that: “Your management must and will always back you up.”

It instructs “those of you in senior management positions” to ensure “all appropriate steps are taken by organisations to ensure their staff know they can come to a workplace that is free from abuse and harassment”. 

He states: “It must be clear to everyone who works for the NHS that they have the full support of the government and NHS in tackling racism towards staff.” 

Mr Hancock was responding to reports that staff are increasingly the subject of racist abuse. 

In the letter the health and social care secretary writes: “Abuse of any member of NHS staff is completely unacceptable. It is absolutely appalling that many of these incidents are racially motivated.  

“Like me, you may have seen the shocking testimony of Dr Radhakrishna Shanbhag…In an exceptionally moving interview, he described the racial abuse that he had been subjected to whilst working as a part of the NHS. Racial abuse that made him feel worthless. Abuse so foul that it made him reconsider his position in the NHS.  

“Especially troubling is the feeling among some staff that they need to accept this humiliation because they can’t be sure they will be backed up if they challenge it.  

“I want to send a clear message, from the very top of our health and care system, with the strong support of the entire national leadership of the NHS: this sort of abuse is unacceptable and we will not tolerate it.

“If you face abuse, do not accept it. If you see a colleague being abused, do not ignore it. If you know of an employee facing this, do not stand for it.” 

He continues: “No one is entitled to choose the colour of the skin of the person giving [them] healthcare…Staff of all backgrounds should rightfully expect to work in an NHS that exhibits a healthy, inclusive, and compassionate culture: a culture where abuse and violence have no part.” 

Earlier this year at an HSJ roundtable a number of trust chief executives expressed concern about the increase in racist attitudes toward staff, with East Suffolk and North Essex Foundation Trust boss Nick Hulme slamming those in the community his trust serves who “are quite happy to sit around and talk about bloody foreigners and those poofs that live at the end of the road”.