BMA condemns Sewell race report

by Tim Tonkin

The BMA has strongly criticised a Government commission’s report into racism, warning that it underplays the existence and effect of institutional racism in the NHS.

Location: UK
Published: Thursday 1 July 2021
hospital corridor

The association has said that it ‘firmly refutes’ the findings of the Sewell commission’s report into race and ethnic disparities, which it says fail to acknowledge the presence of ‘racist or discriminatory processes, policies, attitudes and behaviours’ faced by many health service staff.

It further warns that, despite recommending certain changes in policy and practice the BMA agrees could make a positive difference within the NHS, the report ultimately overlooks ‘opportunities to identify effective solutions to tackle racial inequalities within the UK’.

Report validity

The warnings come as the association today publishes its full response to the Sewell report, which was unveiled earlier this year, and to which the BMA had submitted evidence.

BMA council chair Chaand Nagpaul said that the report’s ‘sweeping’ analysis of the evidence it had received had compromised the overall validity of its conclusions, adding that the weight of evidence demonstrates the prevalence of structural racism in the NHS.

He said: ‘The way in which the authors chose to analyse the data and evidence submitted to the Commission questions the validity of the entire report. They made sweeping statements of success and as such showed little acknowledgement of the indisputable disparities in experiences and outcomes for doctors from ethnic minority backgrounds.

‘A recent BMA survey, which was submitted to the Commission by the BMA, found that 16.7 per cent of ethnic minority staff compared to 6.2 per cent of white staff reported experiencing discrimination at work from a manager, team leader or other colleagues as well has reporting twice the level of bullying and harassment.

‘The documentation of racism occurring at a systemic level within the NHS is enormous, tough to process, very often not addressed and assumed to be part of the job for ethnic minority doctors and healthcare workers. This should not be the case and it is hard to comprehend how the Commission on Race and Ethnic Minorities race report failed to see this.’

He added: ‘Having missed an opportunity with this report we’d strongly urge the Government to take the BMA’s response seriously and begin to tackle structural racism within the health service so that the values of fairness and equity we ascribe to patient care applies equally to those that work within the NHS.’

Representation claim challenged

Established last year in the wake of international protests relating to the murder of George Floyd in the USA, the commission was given the remit of investigating racial and ethnic disparities in the UK including those that existed within the health service.

The publication of the commission’s report in March, the BMA took issue with its claim that the health service enjoyed a ‘significant overrepresentation’ of ethnic minority staff in ‘high status, professional roles’, and what it described as the report’s ‘politicised narrative’.

The BMA did, however, endorse a number of the report’s recommendations including the establishment of a review into the Care Quality Commission’s approach to disciplinary actions against ethnic minority staff, developing a better understanding of the ethnicity pay gap in the NHS in England and for the formation of an office for health disparities.

Read the BMA report, A Missed Opportunity