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GPs go forth

BME doctors lack ‘unity and purpose’ in fight against racism, says leading GP

Exclusive The fragmentation of BME doctors into several organisations is the ‘biggest problem’ in the fight against racism, a leading GP has said.

Professor Aneez Esmail, a GP and professor of general practice at the University of Manchester, said BME doctors have become hampered by identity politics and have lost the ability ‘to transcend that individual fight’ against racism.

Speaking at a conference in front of various BME doctors’ association leaders, he said he no longer wants to attend meetings of race-specific organisations such as the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO) or the British International Doctors Association (BIDA), instead calling for ‘some sort of unity and purpose’.

The chair of BIDA agreed that the '25 or 30 different' organisations 'have not been unified', adding that the BMA or BIDA, as an international group, might be best placed to 'bring these organisations under one umbrella'.

Professor Esmail, who has long campaigned for racial equality in the NHS through his research and is a GP in Rusholme, Manchester, said BME doctors are fighting for equality in leadership positions and awards ‘at the individual level’, when the problem is racism in the NHS establishment. 

Speaking at the BMA’s racism in medicine conference last month, he said: ‘The biggest problem is us - us in this room. I think that we have fragmented our campaign.’

He added: ‘I don’t want to go, any more, to meetings of the Pakistani Doctors Association or the Muslim Doctors Association or BAPIO or BIDA and just talk about this amongst ourselves when it’s all fragmented. I want some sort of unity and purpose that says this is important.’

While he said he is ‘not against individuals having their own groups’, he added that ‘it’s not how we fight campaigns’.

Professor Esmail explained: ‘What racism does is it drives you back into that [singular identity] and so you then find comfort in others like you and you fight this identity politics.’

But he said: ‘If we get out of our singular identities, if we get out of identity politics, we can change things.’

Dr Chandra Kanneganti, chair of BIDA, told Pulse: 'I agree with Aneez, that we could have been much more unified in our fight against racism in the NHS.'

He said that, as an international association, BIDA is 'quite happy' to be bring these organisations together, while also adding that 'maybe the BMA has to take a big role in bringing all organisations under one umbrella'.

He said: 'What happens sometimes is, within their own members, they get too attached, for various reasons, and that's why the country-origin organisations or religion-based organisations - they have their own priorities.

'But at the end of the day racism is the main priority that all of them are against. That's why we need to now come up to one platform, with a single voice.'

Racism in medicine

Racism in the medical profession has been thrown back in to the spotlight since the Dr Bawa-Garba case, which saw the GMC strike off the junior doctor from the medical register following the death of a six-year-old boy in her care.

GP leaders described the case as a 'watershed moment' for the profession and 'an opportunity for meaningful action'.

Shortly after the High Court ruling, BAPIO wrote an open letter saying their ‘pursuit’ of Dr Bawa-Garba ‘reflects the inherent bias that exists within the GMC’.

Despite the GMC continuing to insist there is no racial bias in their fitness-to-practice proceedings, they launched a review into why BME doctors face more complaints than their white counterparts in April and said they may consider anonymising FTP investigations to avoid racial bias.

Readers' comments (15)

  • Vinci Ho


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  • AlanAlmond

    There’s circularity in this position which is difficult to square. Setting up organisations who’s sole purpose is to identify how we are different from each other, on the basis of nationality or religion is apparently wrong, it breeds disharmony and division and is counter productive and makes us weak. But it’s ok if the organisation is soley about being ‘not white’ ..that’s fine apparently. That (for some reason) doesn’t breed disharmony and division, isn’t counter productive and doesn’t make us weak. It’s fine to base organisations on differences in the colour of our skin, just nothing else. That’s not divisive at all? Sure to bring us all together. Which is what we want after all. The only thing that matters is the colour of your skin. The only thing that matters about you is that you aren’t white. Only then can we be united and strong.

    If that isn’t an offensive position I really don’t know what is.

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  • AlanAlmond

    Is there a colour chart somewhere where people can find out if they qualify as BME? On what basis are we allowed to identify with this group? Is being olive ok? Do you need to have an accent? What if I go on holiday and get a teally deep tan? What if my mother was Greek and my father was Nigerian? Is someone from Turkey BME? Is someone from Iran BME? How about someone from Italy? Do the Taiwanese quality? Where does white end and brown begin? What about yellow people?

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  • Let’s face it. Doctors are incapable of acting in unity. Period.

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  • It’s not you, the government hates us all.

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  • doctordog.

    The best way to fight racism is to quit talking about it.
    Morgan Freeman.

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  • Both racism and the fight against racism will never end
    Those who are oblivious or tend to be oblivious are donald trump in disguise.

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  • |Moosa | Hospital Doctor|08 Aug 2018 11:07pm

    Wow an assertion with no evidence. I question your competence at critical thinking.

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  • Wasnt this the guy that went into cahoots with Channel 4 to make the utterly deplorable Dispatches programme in 2011?

    Making secret recordings of colleagues to make uncontextualised generalisations against the profession doesnt show unity.

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  • Some doctors are too scared to talk about another doctor or medical student wearing a niqab or burka at a meeting or professionally. This is not necessarily racism. Covering the face can be a hindrance to proper communication and non-verbal clues when engaged in conversation or not.
    It is like putting a wall between ourselves and colleagues or patients, and gives an appearance of unwillingness to integrate or communicate with other people of ethnic or non-ethnic background.
    While in many countries it may be a recognized convention to wear these garments and appropriate to those climates, it is non-essential to Islam.
    In the UK, people can wear what they like to a great extent, this does not mean wearing a niqab, burka is not a hindrance to proper communication or integration. It is seen by many (who have no xenophobia or racism) as looking scary and isolationist: Boris Johnson (topical news) has said, "like a bandit"... which many people can see is obvious, in this country, and yet some have criticised him.
    How a doctor or medical student makes it easier to encourage people to communicate with them is
    a very important matter indeed...not racist, and who even IDs colleagues in a niqab to patients or colleagues who don't know them?
    It is like a disguise in certain circumstances, and not just a traditional thing for some to wear.
    Remmember, also, for many women, what you wear
    can indicate subjugation or be perceived such.

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