GP concern over rise in racism as Brexit 'turns clock back 30 years'

GPs have raised concerns over a rise in racism since the UK voted to leave the EU last year and called for clear guidance on how practices should handle unacceptable behaviour from patients.

Dr Ula Chetty (left) and colleagues leading an RCGP conference workshop on Brexit (Photo: Pete Hill)
Dr Ula Chetty (left) and colleagues leading an RCGP conference workshop on Brexit (Photo: Pete Hill)

RCGP president-elect Dr Mayur Lakhani told GPonline that he would aim to drive the development of guidance on how to handle racist incidents once he took up his post later this year.

In a workshop on Brexit, the NHS and 'rising above a rise in racism' at the RCGP annual conference in Liverpool, doctors discussed their own experiences and approaches to tackling racist behaviour.

Glasgow GP Dr Ula Chetty, a member of the RCGP junior international committee, told GPonline that she and other colleagues put on the workshop in response to their own experiences and media reports of a rise in racism following the Brexit vote.

They had also been shocked at the government's failure to guarantee that overseas or EU staff working in the NHS would be able to remain in the UK.

Dr Chetty said that although cases of overt racism she had seen personally remained 'few and far between', she had directly experienced racism. And in a wider sense, she said, 'there was a sense that Brexit gave people license to be more openly racist'.

Brexit impact

Dr Lakhani, who attended the workshop, said that when he first joined a practice in the 1990s some patients left because they were concerned he would not be able to speak English. He felt that Brexit had 'really pushed things back to 30 years ago', with reports of more examples of patients 'not wanting to see a GP with a brown face, or with a Polish name'.

Hampshire GP Dr Sunil Bhanot added: 'This was something we thought was almost sorted, something we thought had gone away. But it's back.' He said that the sole positive point was that young people were 'energised' and ready to fight back against a rise in racism.

Dr Chetty said that there was currently a complete lack of guidance for GPs on how to deal with incidents of racism in their practices, and called for clear advice.

'It would be useful for advice to be broken down into scenarios,' she said, to enable general practice to take a consistent approach to handling, for example, a patient who insists they will only see a white doctor. 'With any guidelines there would still be discretion, but there is currently no guidance for what to do - in light of Brexit it has become even more important.'

She added that in addition to producing guidance, she would like to see the college actively champion the contribution of overseas doctors to the NHS, and to lead a public campaign to celebrate their role.

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