Only 36% of disabled doctors in a BMA survey said they felt comfortable at the prospect of telling their employers or colleagues about their disability because they believed their workplace or medical school was disability friendly.

Fear of being treated unfavourably was expressed by 77% and of those that had revealed their health conditions, just 41% said it resulted in them receiving improved support for their disabilities.

The survey of 700 doctors and students was carried out between November 2019 and January 2020 and aimed to highlight the challenges and inequalities affecting disabled people by highlighting their experiences across a range of issues.

Despite the fact that NHS England’s recent Workforce Disability Equality Standard found the majority of trusts had disabled staff networks (63%) in hospital and a disability champion (65%), fewer than 10% of doctors taking part in the survey said they were aware of these resources being available in their workplaces.

For doctors and students with disabilities, access to flexible working is the single most significant adjustment sought for, with 57% requesting this, compared with 11% who require structural changes to a building.

Recommendations for improving experiences of disabled doctors

The BMA has made eight recommendations aimed at improving the day-to-day working and cross-career experiences of disabled doctors and students. Among these are increasing awareness of disability in the workplace, by confronting discrimination and promoting positive and visible role models.

The association is also calling for trusts to create centralised budgets and simplified processes for funding reasonable adjustments, and to improve access to occupational health services for all doctors and students.

The BMA is also backing efforts to make career and training pathways more flexible, in part by utilising services such as telemedicine and remote working, both of which have proved invaluable during the pandemic, and by ensuing that sickness absence policies are updated to properly reflect the needs posed by disability or long-term ill health.

Disability and ethnicity issues in the medical profession

Ethnicity issues heightened the challenges faced by disabled people in the work place and 38% of white doctors and students with a disability reported feeling comfortable in disclosing it compared to 20% of black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) doctors and students.

Additionally, while 58% of those from a white background said they had succeeded in obtaining adjustments for their disability, only 39% of BAME staff said the same.

Further reading: BAME healthcare workers and Covid-19

Only 55% of survey respondents said they received reasonable adjustments, while just 26% felt their workplace or schools' sickness absence policies took proper account of their disabilities or health condition.

Covid-19 pandemic allows us to rethink healthcare delivery

BMA equality, diversity and inclusion advisory group chair Helena McKeown, said: "Disabled doctors and medical students are a valuable part of our medical profession, bringing unique perspectives and insight into patient experiences and healthcare. They also face unique barriers and challenges as they study, train and work in a system that was not designed with their needs in mind."

Dr McKeown said that the survey findings, and more recently the pandemic, had emphasised the extent to which the health service both needed to reform ways of working to better serve and protect those with disabilities, while also demonstrating that effective change could be made with sufficient will.

She added: "The response to Covid-19 has also involved unprecedented changes to the way that health services operate and creates an opportunity to re-think healthcare delivery and job design.

"Some of the changes that happened at the peak of the virus show that things that disabled doctors and medical students have been calling for, for many years, such as more remote working opportunities, can in fact be implemented at large scale and at rapid pace, if the will is there to do so."