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Racism against ethnic minority GPs could spark mass exodus, report finds

by Caitlin Tilley
16 June 2022

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Racism faced by ethnic minority doctors is pushing them to leave the profession in what could become a mass exodus, a BMA report has found.

The new BMA racism in medicine report, published this week, found that almost a third (32%) of doctors have left or are considering leaving the NHS due to experiences of racism in the last two years – with 23% saying they were considering quitting and 9% having already left a job for that reason.

Among Black and Asian doctors, the figure was 42% and 41% respectively.

It also found more than three-quarters (76%) of the 2,030 survey respondents said they had experienced racist incidents at work at least once in the past two years.

It found that overseas trained ethnic minority doctors were more likely to have experienced racism in the workplace in the last two years (84%) than their UK-trained counterparts (69%).

The BMA said the ‘landmark’ report ‘has revealed a profession in danger of a major exodus of doctors of ethnic minority backgrounds, due to persistent and intolerable levels of racism faced at a personal and institutional level’.

In his foreword to the report, BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘It is no surprise that more than almost one-third of doctors have left or are considering leaving the NHS due to experiences of racism in the last two years.

‘This terrifying statistic should serve today as a much-needed wake-up call for all those accountable for the health service.’

The report also found:

  • 71% of respondents who personally experienced racism chose not to report it, as 56% believed it would not be addressed and 33% were worried about being seen as a ‘troublemaker’.
  • For those who did report racist incidents, the most common outcome was that no action was taken (41%).
  • Almost 6 in 10 (58%) who reported incidents said it had a negative impact on them, including being made to feel like they were overreacting or that the incident was their fault.
  • 2019 data on MRCGP examinations found that Clinical Skills Assessment (CSA) candidates who were White UK graduates had a pass rate of 94%, whereas UK graduate ethnic minority candidates had a pass rate of 83%. For international medical graduate (IMG) CSA candidates, the figures are 50% for White candidates, and 41% for ethnic minority candidates.

The report said: ‘These findings tell us definitively that the way that racism is experienced is very different dependent on ethnicity, that racism is significantly under-reported due to perceptions of negative repercussions, and that little is being done to address these issues.’

It added that its ‘key recommendation’ is ‘for regulators, employers, training providers and government bodies to publicly state how they are working towards the aim of having a just and inclusive learning culture’.

This is the ‘foundation on which to build all actions to deliver racial equality and achieve fair referrals in medicine’, it said.

The report also called for medical education to be ‘tailored to meet the needs of the ethnically diverse UK population’ and for employers and managers to ‘have policies in place to support everyone who witnesses and experiences discrimination, bullying, and harassment to report it’.

GP testimonies

A Black Caribbean GP trainee said: ‘We are treated more harshly and there’s definitely a double standard. My behaviour is scrutinised twice as much – it’s as if people are waiting for me to make a mistake to leap upon it.’ 

They added: ‘There is an automatic lack of trust and an expectation of incompetence. My plans will be questioned whereas a white male doing the exact same actions will sail through with no resistance.’

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An Asian British GP trainee said: ‘Families of deceased patients have been treated very poorly if they’ve been from BAME backgrounds. There has been disdain, sneering, mocking of patients and their families from BAME backgrounds.

‘This is a regular occurrence. There is a culture of actively stripping BAME patients and relatives of their dignity.’

A Black British GP said: ‘During the pandemic, I have had a number of patients on the telephone who have assumed I am White, once we arrange a face to face they are surprised I am the GP they have spoken to on the phone and then chose to no longer see me instead preferring to see my White colleagues. This has been quite a common occurrence.’

A Mixed ethnic background GP locum told the BMA: ‘Greater awareness means that my workplace knows that racial inequality is a problem but because the people trying to come up with solutions do not really understand the problem, their efforts appear patronising.

‘For example, mentor programme[s] for BAME staff with predominantly White mentors, to “improve confidence and leadership skill”. It would be better for programmes to help White people understand what it is like on the other foot before trying to fix the problem.’

A Black African salaried GP said: ‘Patients have threatened me and called me awful names but when I complained to the management, it was trivialised and I was told I could have managed the situation better and was told to do a reflection on the encounter for my appraisal.’

An Asian GP trainee said: ‘It has caused a tremendous strain, knowing that nothing has been done against the perpetrators of systemic bullying steeped in racism. I am now viewed as being “difficult” for frankly describing my experiences.’

Source: BMA

A similar report by Health Education England published last month found that more than one in three GPs in London said they experienced racial discrimination from patients in the past 12 months.

And according to a major survey carried out by the BMA in February, over 90% of Black and Asian doctors and medical students are concerned about racism in the medical profession.

previous report by an LMC found that more than half of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) primary care staff have experienced racism at work coming from either patients or fellow colleagues.

And the CQC admitted earlier this year that its inspections may ‘inadvertently disadvantage’ ethnic minority GPs.

In September last year, a GP ‘nearly lost his sight’ in a racially motivated attack where an explosive device was thrown in his face.

This story was initially published on our sister title Pulse.

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