The Government, regulators, employers and doctors must commit themselves to finding ways of tackling racial inequality in the health service, a BMA conference has heard.
A comprehensive commitment to ending systemic inequalities around race and ethnicity in the health service is essential for staff and patients, according to the Creating a Turning Point on Race Equality in Medicine conference yesterday.
Opening the event, BMA council chair Chaand Nagpaul said that while there had been notable improvements in tackling racism in the NHS over the past 30 years, there were still many areas where inequality persisted.
He highlighted how BME (black and minority ethnic) doctors are still more likely to suffer bullying and harassment in the workplace, to be referred to the GMC by an employer and subsequently face sanctions as a result.
Dr Nagpaul said that racial inequality had a negative impact not only on BME doctors and other NHS staff, but on patients by denying them ‘the full potential and capability of the NHS’s medical workforce’.
He said: ‘We know that racial inequality continues to afflict the NHS. We know that there are inequalities in entrance to medical school, we know that at medical school there is differential attainment between BME and white doctors.
‘I don’t think it’s right that we should think of equity and fairness in a selective sense in the way we look after patients, we have to think of the NHS embodying these principles … [and] we need an NHS that has equality and fairness in the professional lives of everyone who works within it.’
He added: ‘I hope today is a spring board for change and a change that will be a collective effort; one that will define every part of the system that needs change, from government, NHS England, regulators, employers and ourselves as doctors.’
Part of the BMA’s Caring, Supportive, Collaborative project, the event brought together a range of figures from across the health service and medical profession.
They included Manchester University professor of general practice Aneez Esmail, GMC assistant director of policy Anna Rowland and NHS England director of workforce race equality standard Yvonne Coghill.
London specialty trainee 2 in emergency medicine Ronx Ikharia made a powerful contribution to the conference by sharing her own story of the struggles she has faced.
Dr Ikharia, who is the daughter of Nigerian immigrants and had to self-fund her medical education, explained that an almost total absence of BME role models and mentors during medical school and foundation years, had been hugely challenging in her journey to becoming a doctor.
She said that increasing the visibility of such mentors at medical schools and in the NHS would mean greater level of support to BME medical students and doctors.
She added that by engaging with schools and local communities to encourage and inspire children from BME backgrounds into considering themselves for a career in medicine, BME doctors could further widen participation and diversity in the profession.
Also speaking at the event was Middlesex University research fellow Roger Kline, who has written extensively on the issue of bullying, discrimination and racial inequality in the health service.
Dr Kline told the conference that significant numbers of white managers in the NHS struggled to have meaningful and informal conversations with BME staff around performance concerns, resulting in the former opting instead for disciplinary investigations.
He said that one solution to tackling the disproportionate number of investigations of BME doctors, was to ensure greater accountability on the part of managers, requiring them to explain and justify why an investigation on a member of staff was appropriate.