Structural inequalities and racial discrimination have persisted for generations as BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) doctors know full well.
But COVID’s disproportionate toll on the BAME community has proved a powerful catalyst for change – including at the BMA.
It has just launched a national BAME member forum, supported by regional networks. The aim is to ‘unify and amplify the voices’ of BAME medics, who represent about 40 per cent of NHS doctors, so the BMA can better advocate for their interests.
Speaking at the recent BAME forum launch, BMA council chair Chaand Nagpaul described it as ‘a defining moment’.
More to do
The organisation has a long history of campaigning for race equality and has worked hard to protect and support BAME doctors during COVID. ‘But there’s so much more to do,’ said Dr Nagpaul.
Inequalities persist in treatment, experiences, and opportunities for development for BAME doctors.
The harmful effects of this are made clear by the evidence showing differential attainment in everything from exams to career progression and pay.
Structural racism has existed for generationsDoreen Lawrence
BAME doctors are two-and-a-half times more likely to be referred by employers for fitness to practise proceedings, for example.
Care Quality Commission inspections are more likely to rate as ‘inadequate’ GP practices with BAME partners.
The BAME forum, Dr Nagpaul said, was a response to ‘calls from the grassroots’ – and should remain a ‘forum for the grassroots’.
Its success would be judged on whether it made a ‘palpable difference’ to members’ experiences in the workplace.
Making BAME voices heard has been a strong motivation for Baroness Doreen Lawrence. Speaking at its launch, she applauded this ambition for the forum.
Her report into COVID’s effect on the BAME community, An Avoidable Crisis, was highly critical of the Government including for the lack of proper personal protective equipment for frontline workers.
Her recommendations remain unanswered. More than 90 per cent of doctors who died in the pandemic’s first wave were from a BAME background.
‘Most of the challenges and distress that people were experiencing were not just from the pandemic but because of the structural racism that had existed for generations, which the disease has highlighted,’ said Baroness Lawrence.
Other speakers at the launch included Doyin Atewologun and Roger Kline, authors of Fair to Refer?, a GMC review of disproportionate referrals for disciplinary processes.
Their recommendations – including support for doctors in more solitary roles – would be a good starting point for regional network discussions and advocacy, Dr Atewologun suggested.
But there’s so much more to doDr Nagpaul
Latifa Patel, deputy chair of the BMA representative body, said the forum was proof the BMA was ‘proactively changing’ on issues such as BAME representation. ‘“No decision about us without us”, that remains our mantra,’ said Dr Patel.
For non-BAME members, the BMA offers allyship training, which builds understanding of the situation of those facing discrimination