Prem Singh is leaving office having served the health sector for 47 years.
By: Chandrashekar Bhat
Derbyshire’s Community Health Services NHS Foundation Trust chairman Prem Singh who is leaving office on Thursday has said bullying and racism still run through the state-funded organisation.
His retirement caps his 47-year-long health service, having started as a nurse in 1975 around the time he relocated to the UK from Malaysia aged 18.
Singh who gave up the turban, the traditional Sikh headgear which he thought prevented his integration in his adopted country has been the Trust’s chair for more than nine years overseeing 4,500 staff and hospitals in Ashbourne, Belper, Chesterfield, Ilkeston, Buxton and Ripley.
“You are going to have people with their prejudices, whether it is racism or homophobia” in an organisation as big as the NHS with an employee count of 1.5 million and it is “hard” to eradicate the phobias, he said.
According to him, covert forms of racism were more psychologically damaging than overt ones such as name-calling because subtle microaggression “belittles” the target and “eats away at you” and “makes you feel very lonely.”
During his early days in Britain, he would be called a “P***” and “s*** ***”, he recalled. But there was a positive to his life as his colleagues welcomed him with open arms at the workplace.
He said giving up the turban was a tough decision he made after speaking with his brother who was in Wales at the time.
“I was made to feel like an alien, walking through town, people used to hurl words of abuse at me”, he told Local Democracy Reporting Service.
“I used to go back to my room at Ashgate and cry,” he said, adding “it was my challenge to integrate.”
“It was a very difficult decision” which had to make “to get on with my life,” Singh said.
He insisted he did not abandon his religion or identity although he gave up a “part of how I chose to show my identity.”
He said the NHS has evolved as an organisation moving away from a culture where shaming leaders was once more common than facilitating learning.
The NHS outlook changed now with more black and Asian leaders in it although there “is a long way to go” for representation to be proportionate, he said.