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RCGP criticised for ‘all-white’ board in open GP letter

More than 1,100 GPs have signed an open letter to the RCGP, criticising its ‘all-white’ board.

The letter, titled ‘Inclusive leadership cannot be achieved with all-white boards’, was sent to chair Professor Martin Marshall this morning (1 July).

The signatories, led by Dr Naureen Bhatti, said they are ‘appalled’ to see the ‘absence of black and Asian representation in the leadership of the college’, and referred to how BAME individuals are worse affected by Covid-19 and the systemic racism, which was revealed in a Public Health England report as a result.

They said this is despite general practice being ‘the most diverse medical specialty since the inception of the NHS in 1948 when it drew heavily on the contribution of South Asian doctors’.

As it stands, GMC data shows that approximately 32% of GPs are currently from black or South Asian heritage or from other backgrounds that identify as not white, with ‘half of these’ international medical graduates, the letter said.

Calling for ‘compassionate leadership’, it went onto say that unless the RCGP acts in this area, it will ‘remain on the wrong side of history’.

The letter continued: ‘Failure to ensure wider representation in the RCGP leadership perpetuates discrimination. We know discrimination against NHS staff causes low morale and predicts poor patient outcomes.’

It added that ‘if the college selection systems cannot address non-representation at board level quickly, the systems that select college boards should be changed’, suggesting that this ‘may require the introduction of quotas’.

It concluded: ‘Maintaining the status quo is no longer acceptable and the college must learn from other sectors where all white boards are no longer permitted.

‘We need compassionate and inclusive leadership in 2020. All white boards cannot achieve this. Without action, the RCGP will remain on the wrong side of history and become an increasing irrelevance in the future NHS.’

In response, Professor Marshall told Pulse: ‘We thank Dr Bhatti for her letter and will be responding to her directly. Last week we issued a statement of solidarity with our black, Asian and minority ethnic colleagues, in which we recognised that the college, like organisations across medicine, needs to do more to identify and address structural racism.

‘This included a commitment to work to improve representation from black, Asian and other minority ethnic communities on college committees and in leadership roles as part of an action plan, which will be released later this summer as part of our wider and ongoing equality, diversity and inclusion work.

‘Our national council elections are now open and we encourage any members or fellows from BAME communities who would be interested in standing for council to do so.’

Dr Bhatti, an RCGP fellow and GP trainer in Tower Hamlets, explained to Pulse that she was already upset by the lack of BAME representation on the RCGP council and trustee board, but that Saturday’s conference messaging was the catalyst to sending the letter. This had seen the RCGP brand Covid-19 as a ‘lifestyle disease’.

She said: ‘I looked up the board last week, and was very shocked that it was all-white and predominantly male, because general practice has always been one of the most diverse medical specialties.

‘A lack of representation leads to insensitive things like the issue of the conference title happening. Younger colleagues have contacted me feeling unable to raise this, even in 2020. As a senior doctor, I don’t feel I can stay quiet about it. Sometimes, you have to have experienced discrimination to speak up.’

Signatory Dr Sabir Zaman, also a GP in Tower Hamlets, added: ‘As a young Asian GP privileged to be afforded a career as a leader, educator, and clinician, I often reflect on the journeys of all those doctors from black, Asian and other minority ethnic backgrounds that came before us, and the sacrifices they made.

‘This generation of forgotten doctors, including my mother, were pivotal in building the NHS we know today. They frequently experienced intolerable discrimination and marginalisation, and were asked to work in undesirable areas where others would not rise to the challenge. 

‘Their stories are equally sad and wonderful and should not be forgotten. They paved the way for us and deserve our gratitude. I am eternally grateful to them all. They are my heroes.’

GP trainees have also sent an open letter on racism to Health Education England, demanding tougher action to combat it during training periods.