Islamophobia in the NHS: Tackling Denial

November is Islamophobia Awareness Month (IAM) and this year’s theme is “Tackling denial”; a fitting reminder for a pervasive and under-recognised endemic in the NHS. Islamophobia is defined by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Islamophobia as rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness. It has a strongly gendered and intersectional component as visibly Muslim women are most likely to be targets.

The Islamophobia Iceberg

The prevalence and impact of Islamophobia is undeniable. In our reports “The Triple Penalty Muslim Doctors in the NHS” and “Excluded on the frontline: Discrimination, racism and Islamophobia in the NHS” we highlight the spectrum of Islamophobic experiences in the NHS, from the covert to the overt, and their impact on career and wellbeing. Unsurprisingly, almost half of colleagues surveyed thought about leaving the profession. While we focus on healthcare professionals, Islamophobia can also contribute to health inequities among Muslim patients receiving care as exemplified during the pandemic.

Whole system approach

In the toolkit, we outline a 12-point action plan to address Islamophobia, at the core of which is a whole system approach combining action at individual, interpersonal and institutional levels and the importance of authentic active allyship. In the spirit of allyship, below are some areas you can reflect on and take action tomorrow as a starter for ten, taken from training we have delivered over the years.

Individual level - awareness

Are you aware of the values and practices important to Muslims?
What is your source of information?
Do you hold any assumptions about your Muslim colleagues or patients?
Are there inequalities in healthcare access, experience or outcomes among your Muslim patients?

Interpersonal - response

How do you interact with Muslim colleagues and patients?
Are you aware of Muslims who may be struggling in the workplace? What support can you offer?
How do you stand up and challenge stereotyping, discrimination and other expressions of Islamophobia you may observe?

Institutional - reform

Think about your own workplace…
How inclusive is leadership?
How do you assess and mitigate against Islamophobia in your policies?
How confident and enabled do staff feel about raising concerns around Islamophobia?
How inclusive is the social culture in your workplace?
Can Muslim colleagues take off time for prayer and religious festivals?
How do you celebrate the positive contributions and achievements of Muslim colleagues?

The MDA staffroom

This year we set up “The MDA Staffroom”, a regular support group for Muslim NHS professionals to connect in a safe space to share experiences and discuss constructive solutions. We have worked on positive initiatives such as the “101 inspirational Muslims in the NHS” project to spotlight Muslim role models, are publishing a guide to support Muslim patients in the NHS, and setting up an executive coaching and reverse mentoring scheme to support leadership inclusion and development. The Fast-a-thon challenge is a fantastic campaign by the NHS Muslim Network that celebrates and creates awareness of Ramadan whilst tackling food poverty in the holy month.

In tackling denial, we can all start with awareness and compassion. Everyone has a role to play in stamping out Islamophobia in the NHS; I urge you to do your part.

About the writers


Dr Hina J Shahid

Dr Hina J Shahid

Dr Hina J Shahid is a General Practitioner and Chairperson of the Muslim Doctors Association. She qualified with a distinction in Medical Sciences at University College London with the first prize in Psychology, Sociology and Epidemiology. She holds a Bachelors of Science in Pharmacology from University College London, and a Masters of Science in Public Health from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.