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Roots of racism in a hallowed profession

20 February, 2020 — By John Gulliver

READERS may not be aware of an accusation of racism levelled against one of our most hallowed institutions – the medical profession.

The charge has not been made by outsiders but by doctors and other medical practitioners within the profession itself.

It stamps its authority in an unprecedented current edition of the prestigious weekly magazine, the British Medical Journal, entirely dedicated to the subject with its front cover showing two babies lying under a heading saying: “Born Equal? Racism in medicine.”

I have been aware for some time of a growing disquiet among contacts in the profession, especially ethnic minority doctors, of apparent discrimination which I put down – perhaps simplistically – to cultural differences of behaviour and custom.

But the evidence gathered by the BMJ suggests it has deeper roots.

For instance, I had become aware of what appeared to be the disproportionately large numbers of ethnic minority doctors who were being suspended, sanctioned or struck off by the governing body of the profession, the General Medical Council.

This is referenced in an opening article in The BMJ as the “increased likelihood of disciplinary procedure against ethnic minority doctors”.

An article by a contributor bluntly states that ethnic minority doctors are more than twice as likely as a white doctor to be referred by his or her employer to the General Medical Council. If the doctor has been trained outside the UK that figure rises to two-and-a-half times as likely.

I do not wish to be churlish considering this courageous edition of The BMJ, but I was surprised by what appeared to be an omission of any reference to an unprecedented ground-breaking exposé of this very problem in the mid-1980s when two brave con­sultants and lecturers at St George’s Medical School – Aggrey Burke, a psychiatrist, and Joe Collier, a pharma­cologist – pub­lished a paper showing a distinct bias against the recruitment of ethnic minority students to medical schools in London.

It cost them dearly. Burke was ostracised for some years as was Collier by the leading bodies in the profession although both are now recognised as esteemed colleagues.

I wrote about this last autumn when the Royal College of Psychiatrists published a poster honouring Burke in Black History Month.

And I mention it only to show that there is a historical root to this problem.

It should stir wider public debate.


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