BMA demands zero tolerance on racism and hits out at 'discriminatory' regulation

Doctors have demanded a major review of the UK's professional regulation system, warning it discriminates against staff from minority ethnic backgrounds - and have called for zero tolerance on racism in the NHS.

BMA (Photo: JH Lancy)
BMA (Photo: JH Lancy)

Motions passed at the conference on 13 September called for 'clearly publicised zero tolerance policies against racism in the NHS', and warned that 'professional regulatory processes discriminate against black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) doctors'.

Doctors backed calls for clear policies stating that patients cannot choose a doctor based on their ethnicity, and for rules on how instances of racism should be handled - and called for a major review of the professional regulation system.

BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said any doctor that chose not to see a patient on the basis of their ethnicity would be struck off - and said that zero tolerance of racism must also be enforced to protect medical professionals from racist abuse.

Racism in the NHS

He acknowledged the need for clear guidance on how NHS staff should handle cases where they faced racism from patients - and said the BMA would 'take this forward'.

Unfair regulation, he added, was 'wrecking people's lives' - and he said the BMA was clear that the GMC's processes need independent investigation. He said the BMA was already calling for all referrals of doctors to the GMC to be subject to independent scrutiny to make sure they were fair and appropriate.

Criticism of the professional regulation process comes after an employment tribunal found earlier this year that the GMC had discriminated against a hospital consultant because of his race - in a judgment challenged by the regulator.

The BMA warned at the time that the landmark case highlighted ‘unfairness’ in the GMC's disciplinary process, and came just a month after the GMC set itself a five-year target for eliminating disproportionate complaints from employers about doctors from minority ethnic groups.

Fair regulation

A GMC spokesperson said: ‘We recognise that there is genuine concern about the way in which referrals to the GMC are handled, and we are working hard with health leaders to tackle inequalities where they exist.'

‘Earlier this year we announced new targets to eradicate inequalities in referrals and differential attainment, building on our work to understand those inequalities in recent years. Alongside the much-needed reform of our legislation on which government is now consulting, we believe that work will bring about real change for doctors working in the UK.’

Meanwhile, doctors have reported a rise in abuse - including racist comments - from patients during the pandemic amid intense pressure on services driven by a huge backlog in care.

Dr Phil Williams told the conference of racism reported by a doctor whose patients had asked things like: 'Can I speak to a proper doctor who is local? I have the right to do so.' Or: 'I thought you were a GP as most of the GPs nowadays look like you.'

Dr Williams said policies in place at NHS organisations were often 'weak and ineffective' - in many cases failing to make clear explicitly that patients could not choose a doctor based on their race or ethnicity.

He said they also lacked practical examples and clear advice on procedures to follow when doctors were the target of racist abuse.

Motions passed by the conference:

Motion by CONFERENCE OF HONORARY SECRETARIES OF BMA DIVISIONS AND REGIONAL COUNCILS: That this meeting calls for clearly publicised zero tolerance policies against racism in the NHS which specifically covers:

i) no patient has a right to choose a treating clinician based upon their ethnicity

ii) clear pathways for when care should be withheld to protect staff from racist patients.

Motion by CONFERENCE OF LMCS: That this meeting believes that the professional regulatory processes discriminate against BAME doctors and demands a major review of the system.

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