BMA launches its first national forum for BAME doctors and medical students

The BMA has launched its first national member forum for black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) doctors and medical students amid criticism that the government failed to prioritise vulnerable clinicians for COVID jabs.

BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul
BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul

The forum, which held its first meeting on 26 January, has been created in response to calls for greater support for BAME doctors working in the NHS and will work to ‘unify and empower the voices’ of minority doctors.

Organised into ten regional member networks, the BMA has said the group will shine a light on issues faced by BAME doctors and medical students in the workplace, in addition to raising the profile of the contribution made by these clinicians.

It comes as BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul argued that doctors who are most vulnerabe to COVID-19, including BAME staff, should be have been first in line for innoculations and called for a more sophisticated prioritisation systemto be introduced in the vaccine programme.

BAME workforce

The special forum will contribute to the BMA’s policy work for members and the wider medical workforce to ensure that BAME perspectives are included, and support the association's efforts to build ethnic diversity within its membership and posts.

Dr Nagpaul explained in a video that the BMA was working to ‘tear down’ structural inequalities within the NHS. He said: ‘The BMA stands for an equal and inclusive NHS where every doctor is treated fairly, is valued, and has equal opportunity to achieve their full potential.

‘We know that BAME doctors face disadvantage and additional hurdles in our health service. They suffer from differential attainment due a systemic lack of support impairing their career progression with fewer BAME doctors securing consultant posts.

‘As a result, there’s an ethnicity pay gap in our health service. Ethnic minority doctors are more than twice as likely to say they experience bullying and harassment at work, twice as likely to be referred for disciplinary processes, and almost twice as likely to be fearful about speaking out regarding workplace concerns. This must change.’

Structural inequalities

Members attending the meeting praised the forum’s first session, which was chaired by Dr Nagpaul, with one GP taking to Twitter to call it ‘exemplary’.

Last June BMA polling found that just 29% of BAME doctors felt fully protected from coronavirus compared with 46% among their white colleagues, while BAME clinicians were also more likely to feel pressured into treating patients without the proper PPE.

Dr Nagpaul also expressed concern over the goverment failure to develop a prioritisation system that considers the risks posed to vulnerable doctors working on the frontline, including those from BAME backgrounds.

Vaccine prioritisation

He told BBC Newsnight on 27 January: ‘What we are finding is that a significant number of doctors have now received their first dose. When we asked whether there was any increase in uptake based upon high risk factor or BAME status, there’s been no difference shown between those BAME who have received the vaccine and their white counterparts.

‘We feel that what we should have been seeing is a very clear prioritisation of those who are at very high risk getting the vaccine first, so they could have been protected to carry on working on the frontline.’

In April last year doctors’ leaders called on the government to act on the damaging and disproportionate impact of COVID-19 upon BAME NHS staff, key workers and communities. Some 90% of doctors who have died from COVID-19 are from minority ethnic groups.

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