Advancing progress through confronting workplace discrimination and racial inequities in healthcare, the British Medical Association (BMA) has launched a new member forum.

Across the NHS, structural barriers and inequalities exist for British, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) professionals. This was the conclusion of Baroness Doreen Lawrence’s An Avoidable Crisis review of the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on BAME communities.

Submissions to the report revealed a lack of diversity among senior levels of management, this particular 'glass ceiling' is represented by the fact that despite BAME individuals making up over 20% or the NHS workforce and only 6.5% of senior managers were from those communities.

Structural inequities were also apparent in the 2019 General Medical Council’s ‘Fair to refer?’ report which explained that behind the higher rates of referrals for BAME doctors, was a system that treated them differently than their White colleagues. Similarly, a recent survey conducted by the Royal College of Psychiatrists reported that there continues to be structural problems in the reporting of incidents of workplace discrimination, and the resultant process of disciplinary action.

Evidence that was also presented to the An Avoidable Crisis review suggests that for some BAME patients access to the correct diagnosis is sometimes challenging, due to the lack of understanding about the presentations of medical conditions in different ethnicities, and the small number of BAME participants in medical trials.

Inequities in health outcomes have especially become extremely apparent over the last year, as BAME communities have been disproportionately recorded in mortality figures. This was particularly apparent for doctors as the first ten NHS doctors in the UK to die from the Covid-19 were from the BAME community and subsequent analysis which showed a continuing disproportion of BAME medical professionals succumbing to the virus.

Unifying the voices of BAME members to promote positive change in medicine

Catalysed by the impact the pandemic has had on the BAME community and the worldwide call for justice represented by the Black Lives Matter movement and the long-standing structural inequalities, the BMA has launched a national BAME member forum.

The forum aims to ‘unify and amplify’ their grassroots members voices and advocate the interests of BAME doctors who make up around 40% of NHS doctors. Doctor Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, described the formation of the forum as ‘a defining moment’, of whose success would be measured by the differences that members experience in the workplace.

The BMA has had a long history of campaigning for racial equality and against workplace discrimination. However, at the launch, it was mentioned that it is apparent more needed to be done to promote equal professional development and opportunities for BAME doctors.

Addressing the problems contained in Baroness Doreen Lawrence's report and the various studies and research on the topic will also rely on White colleagues' active participation, which is why the BMA is also offering allyship training to build up an understanding of the situation of those facing discrimination.

Speaking at the launch, Dr Chaand Nagpaul 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 Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic doctors face disadvantage … Ethnic minority doctors are more than twice as likely to say that they experience bulling 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. The BMA is leading the charge to right these wrongs and tear down the structural inequalities that have plagued out health services for far too long.”