Anthony Omo headshotIn this blog, Anthony Omo, our Director of Fitness to Practise and sponsor of our BME staff network, reflects on how we’re challenging ourselves to do more to address inequalities for doctors, patients and the health system.

Black history month is a time to celebrate the positive contributions that black people have made to British society. That is certainly true in the medical profession where early pioneers in health include:

  • Dr Harold Moody (born 1882) came to England in 1904 to study medicine at King’s College in London, he qualified in 1910 having won several academic awards.
  • Mary Seacole (born 1805 in Kingston Jamaica), funded her trip to the UK to work in helping the wounded during the Crimean war. She worked on yellow fever cholera and was a pioneer on wound care.
  • Dr Rice (born 1848), the son of a freed slave, settled in Plumstead South London after completing his studies at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. He extended antiseptic research to South London hospitals and Schools.

There are now 299,451 doctors with a licence to practice in the UK and almost 5% – 14,662 – of these doctors have Black or Black British ethnicity.

With such a strong presence of black doctors in the UK medical profession and the diversity of patients they serve, it is important that we, as the regulator, recognise the issues that affect black doctors in the past, right now and in the future.

Our own commissioned independent research shows that BAME doctors are twice as likely to be referred to us by an employer than a white doctor.

There is always more that can be done to address these issues, and we have a number of programmes in place to do this – as well as more to come –  but it is also good to recognise that we do have answers to some of these concerns. Our work with Responsible Officers checks that local clinical governance systems are free from bias, and our Welcome to UK practice training has had fantastic evaluation from Newcastle University on how it helps international medical graduates (IMGs) land well in the NHS.

Many matters around race, equality and fairness have been highlighted this year by the BLM movement and the disproportionate effect of covid-19 on people from BAME backgrounds. It has certainly raised awareness and I think has made us look more closely at how and where there is opportunity to create more inclusive environments and tackle some of these long-standing issues.

The GMC will play a role in taking this forward by working with our partners to exert our influence over the system to tackle long standing racial inequalities.  For example, we want to see institutions take effective action to address differential attainment for BAME doctors, and to support leaders across the system to be consistent, inclusive and compassionate. We’ll support them with this by continuing to share good practice and research.

It’s no secret that Black History Month has opponents. It has been criticised as an exercise in tokenism and an excuse to ignore Black history for the rest of the year. Whatever the strength and weaknesses of those arguments, they reflect how necessary it is to make sure that our work to support black doctors and Equality, Diversion & Inclusion (EDI&) issues isn’t just limited to a month in Autumn.

Following discussions with our Council, we’ve really accelerated our focus on ED&I and we’ve had some really honest conversations – across all levels of the organisation – about what contribution we can make to address inequalities as an employer and in healthcare. 

We’re involved in a crucial research project led by Dr Manish Pareek and funded by the National Institute of Health Research, alongside other regulators, to understand how ethnicity affects covid-19 outcomes and why people from BAME backgrounds are so disproportionately affected.

And, we are focusing efforts around having diversity represented in medical teaching and learning, working with the Medical Schools Council on guidance to help students learn about how to treat patients from all different backgrounds. We’re grateful to everyone who petitioned this year for more BAME representation in clinical teaching. We want to make sure that our future doctors see and learn about people of all colours and races in their training.

To finish, I’d like to make clear that we’re looking at ourselves too and how we can increase diversity across the GMC. We have to adopt the cultures we expect of our health services, and that means an inclusive workplace where staff are valued and everyone has a voice. We must be honest with ourselves about where we are and where we need to get to, as well as being honest with our colleagues.

There will be more details about our work to tackle ED&I issues in our corporate strategy set for release later this year.