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BMA: Report on race equality gives ‘little analysis’ on challenges facing ethnic minority doctors


By James Hacker
15 April 2021

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The Government’s report on race and ethnic disparities provides ‘shockingly little analysis’ on the challenges faced by ethnic minority doctors and staff trained overseas, the British Medical Association (BMA) has said.

The report, published by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities on 31 March, suggested that structural race inequality is not a major factor in opportunities and outcomes for many people in the UK.

In a letter (14 April) to the Commission’s chair Tony Sewell, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said that ‘the report appears to be underpinned by a single narrative that attempts to minimise racism in the UK, with, in our view, the flawed interpretation of selected data’.

He added that the BMA has had ‘a significant response’ from members indicating that the report does not reflect their experiences or progress the conversation on how to address racial inequality.

‘The report celebrates the ‘onward march of minorities into positions of power and responsibility in professions such as…medicine’. Yet it provides shockingly little analysis of the challenges faced by many ethnic minority and overseas-trained doctors, including differential attainment and under-representation among the highest ranks within the NHS,’ the letter said.

‘In the NHS, there is irrefutable evidence of discrimination faced by ethnic minority doctors at all stages of their career commencing from medical school.’

Dr Nagpaul asked the Commission to confirm how it will evaluate the effectiveness of the recommendations made in its report. 

Poverty and racism

Dr Nagpaul also said in the letter that the BMA’s submission to the Commission – made during the consultation period – was not ‘appropriately reflected’ in the report.   

The submission had urged a full investigation of the relationship between poverty and racism – but Dr Nagpaul said the BMA does not believe this was ‘satisfactorily done’.

‘We were also troubled by other parts of the report, particularly the section on health, where there is a failure to acknowledge that it is often root structural inequalities that directly lead to many ethnic minorities being more greatly affected by social determinants of health,’ the letter said.

It added that the Commission’s report had also failed to mention that 85% of doctors that died from Covid-19 in the UK were from minority ethnic backgrounds.

‘Further analysis of the issues’

The report was widely criticised at the time of publication, prompting the Commission to issue a statement on 2 April that said ‘in some cases fair and robust disagreement’ with its work had ‘tipped into misrepresentation’ and there was a need to ‘set the record straight’.

The statement said: ‘We have never said that racism does not exist in society or in institutions. We say the contrary: racism is real and we must do more to tackle it.

‘That is why our very first recommendation to the Government is to challenge racist and discriminatory action and increase funding to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to pursue investigations.’

It also said that members of the commission had faced ‘deeply personal attacks’ following the publication of the report.

‘We hope that going forward, the report will be read carefully and considered in the round. Our experience since publication only reinforces the need for informed debate on race based on mutual respect,’ the Commission added.

Dr Nagpaul’s letter concluded: ‘Despite our disappointment in the report, its publication reaffirms the BMA’s commitment to tackling racism in all forms, interpersonal and structural. We are currently preparing a further analysis of the issues tackled by the report and will share this with the Commission.’

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