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by Carla Mathurin
13 October 2023

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Why aren’t there more Black people working in primary care manager roles?

October is Black History month, a time to recognise the heritage and contribution of the Black community in this country, says practice manager Carla Mathurin. But is diversity an issue the profession can honestly say it’s made progress with?

Last Sunday morning, I sat down with a cuppa to finish binge watching The Other Black Girl, a suspenseful TV series that explores the working environment in the largely white-led industry of publishing in the US today. The modern-day heroine, Nella, is a black woman educated to degree level and is paying her dues in the hope of promotion.  It got me thinking about the profession I work in.

I love the job. The role of a practice manager is never boring, even though admittedly it’s so fast-paced you can hardly catch your breath before the next fire needs fighting, or a patient wants to ‘discuss’ something or a rota needs rearranging, or any other task buried in among the never-ending stream of emails.

However, I am lucky enough to work with a great team and supportive GP partners. We have each others backs when it’s tough going. The surgery is growing and despite some occasional negative online comments (which by the way I’ve now learned to fight off with my imaginary Wonder Woman style cuffs – the Linda Carter version, of course), we receive some excellent feedback from patients.

These sentiments can probably be recognised by practice managers across the country. There’s so much pride in all that we do and accomplish.

But there is one glaring oversight. While networking at local and regional events I have never come across another Black practice manager. Just to clarify, by identifying as Black I am using the term to mean Black African, Black Caribbean or Black Mixed (just as the boxes on forms say).

In fact, as I think on it more, I have realised that I don’t see much diversity in succession planning in practice management.

I have found it almost impossible to collect any reliable statistics, but it still begs the question, why aren’t there more black people working in administration and management in primary care?  

Surgeries will often advertise jobs through tried and trusted routes, but if these routes are not delivering diversity, perhaps this is a weakness in the system.

I don’t want to think that there is no appetite to recruit black people in 2023 in the UK. That said I have suffered sustained microaggressions (which take me straight back to my experiences of being a little girl growing up in the 1970s) and concerning behaviour within my locality.

A lack of diversity has ramifications for not just individuals but for our healthcare system.  Reducing health inequality is a key and important target within primary care. There’s a powerful video on racial inequalities in health from the Open University that can be watched on YouTube

But how are we able to truly find ways to truly connect with our varied and diverse patient lists when they do not see themselves reflected within the team that greets them at reception or the managers who organise their surgeries?

My own background is management within the voluntary sector. I was there for more than 21 years before moving into primary care a few years ago. Once there, I was nurtured by a very kind and supportive practice manager, which led me to my current PM position.

In terms of my own continuing development, last year I participated in the Mary Seacole programme, a management and leadership training course provided by the NHS Leadership Academy (and which is, incidentally, named in honour of a black nurse).  

This has all been a positive for me. But what I don’t see is active recruitment among suitably qualified and experienced people in wider diverse areas. I don’t feel that primary care management is promoted as an option to young Black people thinking about a career in management.

I would suggest that this something organisations such as Integrated Care Boards (ICBs) should be taking a much more proactive approach on. If it’s not commissioners funding projects then where should the impetus for change in primary care come from?

October is Black History month in the UK. It is a celebration of the contribution that Black people have made to this country. A proud contribution. Perhaps over the next decade we will see more talented young black people considering primary care as a career of choice.

Carla Mathurin is Practice Manager at Friar Gate Surgery in Derby