Government must tackle racism and health inequality, doctors warn

The government has a moral duty to tackle racism and health inequality exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic and highlighted by the Black Lives Matter movement, doctors have warned.

(Photo: Photofusion/Getty Images)
(Photo: Photofusion/Getty Images)

Delegates at the 2020 BMA annual representative meeting (ARM) backed a motion calling for a string of actions targeting health inequalities and racism - and in a separate vote condemned the death of George Floyd earlier this year and declared 'solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement'.

Doctors at the online ARM backed calls for increased public health funding to address 'ethnic, geographic and gender inequality', better recording and analysis of ethnicity in the NHS and measures to improve equality in recruitment, training and education.

NHS trust boards should 'reflect the ethnic make-up of the workforce of the organisation which they manage', the motion said - while all staff involved in NHS recruitment should have 'training on diversity and unconscious bias'.

Unconscious bias

The motion passed by doctors' leaders also called for a mentorship scheme to support black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) NHS managers and clinical leaders - and for transparency in NHS recruitment processes.

BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: 'The COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement has clearly demonstrated the importance of addressing health inequalities and racism in the UK and the NHS.

'This comes at a time when the government has been dragging its feet over the implementation of the PHE report into the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 for people from BAME backgrounds.

'This is why the BMA has called for increased funding for public health to tackle ethnic, geographic and gender inequalities following sustained cuts. Greater recording and analysis of ethnicity within the NHS is also crucial going forward, as the pandemic has shone an important, albeit alarming, light on the tragic disproportionate impact on BAME communities and healthcare workers.'

COVID-19 deaths

A total of 13 GPs have died to date in the COVID-19 pandemic - with all but two from BAME groups.

BMA council member Dr George Rae told the conference that official statistics showing COVID-19 death rates were twice as high in deprived areas were a 'national shame'.

Dr Nagpaul added: 'Removing barriers to progression is a crucial part of tackling inequalities which the BMA believes begins with addressing the educational barriers facing BAME school children. This must also be reflected in the workplace with the need for diversity in leadership to build an inclusive culture.

'Addressing the structural inequalities and systemic biases that exist within the NHS is absolutely crucial.'

A DHSC spokesperson said: 'Racism has no place in our health service – the NHS is a beacon of diversity as the largest employer of BAME people in the country.

'We want to level up people’s opportunity to have a long and healthy life, whoever they are, wherever they live, and whatever their background or social circumstances.'

The motion in full

That this meeting believes the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement has demonstrated the importance of addressing health inequalities and racism in the UK. This meeting calls for:

(i) increased funding for public health to tackle ethnic, geographic and gender inequalities in the UK

(ii) greatly improved recording and analysis of ethnicity in the NHS;

(iii) specific action based on culturally sensitive research to address the health, social and educational problems caused to BAME school children and make recommendations to reduce these inequalities;

(iv) all NHS trust and organisation boards should reflect the ethnic make-up of the workforce of the organisation which they manage;

(v) every person involved in NHS recruitment should have training on diversity and unconscious bias;

(vi) a mentorship scheme for Black, Asian and minority ethnic NHS managers and clinical leaders should be developed;

(vii) transparent recruitment and promotion systems in all NHS organisations.

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