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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.