GPs at the 2021 UK LMCs conference condemned racism towards GPs and practice staff by patients - and backed a motion calling for a 'zero tolerance approach to patient complaints that arise from challenging racism.
The motion demanded efforts to identify and publicise racism against NHS staff - and called on ministers across the UK to speak out regularly to make clear that patients refusing to see doctors based on their ethnicity was not acceptable.
The debate comes just days after a landmark report by Humberside LMC found that a majority of black, Asian and minority ethnic staff in primary care had experienced racism at work - and that racism had shaped career choices and training for many.
GPs facing racism
The BMA has acknowledged that experiences reflected in the report are a nationwide problem and called for 'systemic change' to prevent racism.
Kent LMC's Dr Reshma Syed told the conference: 'If as a patient it is your right to see a doctor, then as a doctor it is our right to refuse to see you if you are racist to our colleagues. There should be severe reprimands for such abhorrent behaviour. Our banner should read: respect the NHS and be proud of it. Disrespect the NHS and you will lose it.'
Nottinghamshire GP Dr Kalindi Tumurogoti told the conference that racism experienced by doctors was often in the form of 'microaggression and unconscious bias' - and he called on all LMCs to 'go back and reflect' on what they could do to prevent racism and support colleagues who had experienced it.
Dr Carter Singh said: 'I would like to ask for GPC to urge our regulators that when our GPs experience racist abuse their voices and complaints are acted on with support and compassion.
Protection from abuse
'Historically they seem to have been kicked into the long grass, with a patient-is-always-right attitude. Yes we should put our patients at the heart of everything we do, but patinets are still accountable for their actions. And we need to start protecting ourselves and our colleagues from life-changing abuse. Racism is never justified or excusable, under any circumstances.'
Dr Singh said he carried the 'painful scars' of having experienced racism first hand - and warned: 'Anything other than taking a hard stance against racism is equivalent to collusion with the perpetrators.'
He called on colleagues and NHS leaders to 'move beyond rhetoric' and called for 'genuine collaborative allyship to improve diversity and inclusion'.
BMA GP committee executive team member Dr Krishna Kasaraneni said: 'Ethnic minority and international doctors are the backbone of our NHS, making up a significant proportion of the workforce, and providing expert care to millions of patients each day.
Diversity and inclusion
'We owe each one a great deal, and should value this expertise and their dedication, and employers, colleagues and indeed patients all have a critical role to play in this.
'All doctors and staff have the right to work in an environment that values diversity and is inclusive. This benefits not only the staff themselves but also patients.
'It is absolutely unacceptable if a patient refuses to be treated by a clinician purely because of their ethnicity. Yet the latest NHS Staff Survey shockingly found that almost one in five ethnic minority staff said they had been discriminated against by patients or their families – a figure that has been steadily increasing, and is significantly higher than that experienced by their white colleagues.
'All of us – from colleagues and employers to policymakers and politicians - have crucial a role to play in calling out this appalling discrimination when we see it, and feel empowered to do so.'
Read the motion backed by LMCs in full:
HULL AND EAST YORKSHIRE: That conference calls on health ministers across the UK to:
(i) publicly and repeatedly deliver the message that no patient is entitled to refuse care based on a clinicians ethnicity;
(ii) identify and publicise the daily examples of racism that NHS colleagues are subjected to;
(iii) commit to a zero tolerance approach to any patient complaints that arise from challenging racism.