Medical organisations urge Government to ‘look again’ at the evidence on structural racism ahead of its response to the Sewell report

BMA press release

Location: UK
Published: Friday 4 June 2021

Yesterday the BMA brought together leaders from medical organisations representing doctors from ethnic minorities, different faiths as well as international graduates1 to discuss the Government’s Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities (CRED race) report.

All those at the meeting were united in their rebuttal of the CRED race report’s main claim that structural inequality is not a significant factor affecting the outcomes and life chances of many in the medical profession and in ethnic minority communities. The group believes that the report fails to acknowledge the role of structural racism - evidence of which was identified and shared with the report’s authors by the BMA and many other organisations.

The meeting resulted in a joint call for the Government to identify, understand and address how systemic racial discrimination and structural racism has been a key factor in the disparities that exist in the experiences of some doctors and healthcare professionals, and a key cause of healthcare inequalities - including the ongoing disproportionate impact that Covid-19 has had on people from some ethnic minority groups.

There was a collective agreement that the Government’s response to the CRED race report - set to be issued this Summer - should rigorously examine the evidence previously submitted to the authors, give a critical analysis of the report, and set out a plan for tackling racism and race inequalities with clear lines of accountability for change.

The meeting also heard from researchers Diane Chilangwa-Farmer, Doyin Atewologun, Vijaya Nath and Roger Kline – who have been commissioned by the BMA to explore the factors that act as barriers to doctors progressing into senior roles on the basis of their race. The BMA hopes the findings from this research will give a true picture of the barriers, including factors related to institutional racism so that effective solutions can be taken forward.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA chair of council, said:

“The CRED race report’s assertion that the NHS is an equality success story with over-representation of ethnic minorities in high positions is flawed, misleading and flies in the face of the lived experience of thousands of ethnic minority doctors. The authors simply ignored the indisputable evidence that ethnic minority doctors face differential attainment affecting career progression, greater employer referrals for disciplinary processes, and reduced chances of being shortlisted or offered top hospital consultant positions.

“We also know that ethnic minority doctors experience higher levels of bullying and harassment, and during the pandemic felt less able to speak out regarding safety concerns, such as lack of adequate PPE due to fear of recrimination or it affecting their career prospects.

“At the meeting we heard from organisations describing that where ethnic minority doctors had reached high positions they had often done so by having to work harder, fighting and overcoming barriers and hurdles they should not have had to face in the first place. So, with this in mind it’s clear the report bafflingly failed to acknowledge or attempt to explain the alarming fact that 85% of doctors who have died from Covid-19 were from ethnic minority backgrounds. These disturbing statistics and outcomes are rooted in long-standing structural and systemic factors, and it is imperative that the Government openly acknowledges that race discrimination exists in the NHS in order for it act to end this unacceptable inequality affecting the workforce. Frustratingly, this evidence was amply presented in the BMA's submission to the consultation yet was ignored in the report itself.

“The BMA, along with all of the organisations in attendance today, is calling on the Equality Minister to use the Government’s response to the report as a second chance to recognise structural racism in medicine and healthcare more widely so that we can begin to challenge these deep inequalities and build a fairer future – we owe it to future generations.

“When developing its own response, the Government would do well to consider the overwhelming response from the public and organisations – ranging from disbelief to outrage at some of the statements in the report. To fail once to miss an opportunity to address inequalities and racism is disappointing and upsetting, but to miss two chances to reflect the experience of hundreds of thousands of people from ethnic minority communities would be simply unacceptable.”

Roger Kline, Research Fellow at Middlesex University Business School, said:

“If there is one message in response to the Sewell report it should be that we should just get on with doing what the research demonstrates. Institutional race discrimination is a reality in NHS employment and it’s time we stopped ticking boxes and instead followed the research evidence when tackling it.”

Notes to editors

The BMA is a trade union and professional association representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.

1. The organisations in attendance:
Association of Pakistani Physicians of Northern Europe
African Caribbean Medical Mentors
British Medical Association National BAME Forum
British International Doctors Association
British Islamic Medical Association
Jewish Medical Association
King’s College London African Caribbean Medical Association
Melanin Medics
Muslim Doctors Association