3rd August 2020   •   video
Coronavirus, racism and the NHS's future: an interview with ex-President of Royal College of GPs

The former President of the Royal College of GPs has told Barfi Culture in an interview the NHS needs to do much more on ethnic minority representation in leadership positions.

He added that "black doctors are particularly underrepresented" in senior positions at the NHS and "not recognised" enough for their contributions.

Mayur Keshavji Lakhani CBE works as a GP and was chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) from 2004 - 2007. In November 2017 he was elected President of the RCGP.

He spoke to me over Zoom on a range of topics, including how the NHS had been impacted by the pandemic, racism within the NHS and how UK healthcare is changing in response to the crisis.

He also said the NHS had a lot to be proud of in how it handled the Coronavirus pandemic so far, but there were challenges ahead.

Below are excerpts from the video interview (above).

How is the pandemic affecting the NHS and the biggest challenge it faces?

"I’ve never seen anything like this. But I think we should also be proud of the way the NHS has coped with the pandemic."

"The biggest challenge now is opening up services for other treatments. Opening up safely. A lot of healing is needed. Now we need to plan how we deal with the after effects of the pandemic."

Why do you think minority doctors were mostly affected by the pandemic?

"A lot of research is going into this and it's a very complex matter."

He says that among South Asians there is a high incidence of diabetes, and Vitamin D deficiency.

“Maybe it is because their baseline health isn’t as good, which is why they are more vulnerable. But there is no doubt it's affecting BAME communities disproportionately. More research is needed to explain why this is happening."

Do you think having more representation of ethnic minority doctors at a leadership level would make a difference?

"Definitely," he says. "There’s a lot of research and evidence that equality in leadership makes a difference in outcomes. By equality I mean gender and race equality."

"No, we don’t have enough BAME doctors at the top of the leadership chain. As you go higher up, nationally, regionally, there are fewer and fewer BAME doctors, particularly in leadership positions."

"There’s a lot of Asian doctors who hold senior positions, so for example the director of primary medical care in England is an Asian. But I have noticed that black doctors are particularly underrepresented. Black doctors make a great contribution but are not recognised I think."

Do you think racism plays a role in this?

"It’s a very complicated issue. The first thing I’d like to say is we should celebrate the progress that’s been made. So for example I was the first BAME chairman and president of the Royal College of GPs by election. "

"There’s a lot of BAME doctors who have overcome obstacles and become national leaders. I’ve heard people say Britain is the best place to be a BAME doctor. The chances to excel, to be promoted, to achieve high position, to succeed - probably there’s no country in the world we can achieve that."

"But we need to so more than that. Over racism in my experience is not very common."

"But things like job shadowing, like mentoring, encouraging people through training, training with unconscious bias. "

"So I think the more we pay attention to increasing opportunity the better. And the NHS has very clear standards like the race equality standards. I think they should be implemented. We should have more data collection and monitoring."

"I’m shocked by some examples I hear. This is a big issue. For example, a black doctor told me, born and bred in this country, that they’re often mistaken for a cleaner. That is unacceptable."

How do you think healthcare is going to change for the public now?

"The pandemic has told us there is a different way."

"We feel we can see 90% of people through video and sort out a lot of problems. The current system doesn’t serve people well."

"The future will be accessing healthcare through your phone. Getting health online. Being able to speak to a GP or nurse through video."

"The future is going to be digital, fast, accessible care, and it's going to push patients in charge of their care."
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Mita is a newspaper columnist, Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapist, Acupuncturist and expert in other healing techniques.
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