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Medical Teaching and Learning: Ethnic Diversity

Volume 804: debated on Tuesday 14 July 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to ensure that ethnic diversity is fully reflected in all aspects of medical teaching and learning.

My Lords, the Government understand the importance of racial equality and diversity within the NHS and are committed to ensuring that this is reflected in medical training. We think we could do better, which is why the General Medical Council sets standards to ensure that students and doctors in training have the opportunity to understand the needs of patients from diverse social, cultural and ethnic backgrounds. That is why Health Education England provides a learning module on equality, diversity and human rights for all health and social care staff.

Thank you, my Lords. I thank the Minister for that Answer. We live in a multiracial society; our NHS serves everyone and is staffed by everyone. However, the training of our doctors, nurses and medical technicians appears not to reflect this fact. We do not know whether current clinical language and learning has exacerbated the dangers to patients from a BME background during the pandemic, for example.

I pay tribute to Malone Mukwende, a student at St George’s, University of London, who published Mind the Gap as guidance for healthcare professionals, showing how skin conditions manifest on darker-skinned patients. This is a question of medical training, not a question of options that people might opt in to. We have to integrate these issues into our medical training to ensure that all healthcare professionals are able to recognise, diagnose and treat all our citizens from all ethnic backgrounds. Are the Government going to act on that?

My Lords, I welcome the noble Baroness’s point. She is entirely right that we live in an extremely diverse community, and this has an impact not only on the way people present their disease but on how they could and should be treated. This is why we build diversity awareness into our training and why we will build extra programmes into the People Plan that will be published shortly, and that is why we remain committed to this agenda.

[Inaudible.] Disparity in any part of the healthcare system is a threat to public health. In health education, there is underrepresentation of the black British community in student entry, among academic staff and in attainment. What specific actions do the Government intend to take to address this fact in each of those areas?

My Lords, the recruitment of 50,000 new nurses, more GPs and new trainees into our medical colleges is being done in a fresh and, importantly, exciting new way, with a much greater focus in the marketing and advertising on attracting those from BME communities. This recruitment programme will, I hope, present a little bit of an inflection point in our approach to recruitment.

My Lords, the Medical Schools Council is steered by an executive committee of 42, which is elected from its membership. Of these, only four are of an ethnic minority background and 11 are women. Apart from encouragement, can the Minister tell the House what the Government are doing to ensure that, across medical and other health professional training, there is proportional representation of both ethnic and gender minority teachers?

The noble Baroness is right; the representation of BAME communities at the higher echelons of the medical establishment is not good enough. In too many areas, the representation is not fair and does not reflect the much higher proportion of BME workers at other levels of the health service. We are working hard on a variety of agendas: the People Plan, which I have already mentioned, and the NHS workforce race equality standard. These measures are taken seriously and we are working hard to change the balance of representation.

Does the Minister agree that, in considering this important subject, there is certainly no room for complacency? However, we do need to know accurately the extent of the problem. Certainly, in all my years in medicine, I have always had this subject very much in mind in selecting and teaching students, selecting doctors and management generally.

Incidentally, I have been very close to members of ethnic minorities who have done much better in life than I have: fellows of the Royal Society, members of the Order of Merit, knights of the Order of the Thistle, presidents of royal colleges and even one who became a king.

My Lords, I completely agree with my noble friend, Lord McColl, that complacency is our enemy. I recommend to him the NHS Workforce Race Equality Standard publication, which is very detailed in its analysis of the problem and is a guide to the challenge we face and a measure of how far we have come. I completely commend the achievements of those in the BAME community who often far outperform those of us who were born in Britain.

My Lords, we all know that incorporating diversity into medical school curricula is an effective way to develop culturally sensitive responses by medical practitioners. However, does the Minister agree that we need medical curricula where diversity is integral and understood in all its dimensions, including institutional and personal biases? Would he also agree that the current guidance, while welcome, is full of good intent but lacks conceptual clarity, and that more effective work is needed to develop a meaningful and more rounded curriculum and means to evaluate its efficacy?

The noble Baroness put her point well, although the broadband deficiencies meant that I did not get all of it. I emphasise that this area of policy work is very much the focus of the drafting of the People Plan, which will put a spotlight on a number of the areas of our human resources, including BAME people, and we look forward to the publication of that plan.

My Lords, while the curricula of medical schools are for them to determine, could the Minister tell the House whether any meetings between the Medical Schools Council and Ministers have taken place recently? Will he ensure that a meeting is arranged in the near future to hear from the medical schools what they are doing, first, to improve the representation of Afro-Caribbean staff and students and, secondly, to ensure that teaching and research properly explore those conditions to which the BAME community is especially susceptible? Black lives really do matter.

The noble Baroness asks a very specific question; I cannot, I am afraid, answer precisely on what meetings there have been with the medical councils, particularly during the busy Covid period. All I can say is that there is ongoing and regular engagement with the medical schools that focuses very much on the key issues that she describes. Diversity and Inclusion: Our Strategic Framework 2018-2022, from Health Education England, is a very explicit and specific programme of works in which we engage all those in health education. As I mentioned, we are working extremely hard on our recruitment campaigns to ensure that they reach communities otherwise not reached.

My Lords, while reflecting diversity in medical training and learning is critical, needed alongside that is a change in the culture in the NHS. Evidence shows that racism, bullying and harassment are not diminishing. Is the Minister satisfied that the clinical leadership across NHS services is committed to learning from the research evidence on the impact of racism and discrimination on health, life chances and mortality?

I am not satisfied; the statistics are not good enough. Twenty-nine per cent of BAME staff experienced harassment. That is not good enough; we must work harder.

Perhaps I might take the Minister upstream a little to the choices made by different communities about entering medical school. What work is being done at 15 and 16 year-old level in schools? Has his department had any conversations with Ofsted about the career choices that kids from diverse communities are making? Many realise that they want to go into medicine when it is too late and they have missed the appropriate A-level subjects so to do.

The noble Baroness is entirely right that decisions on careers are often made at school and if we do not get to people then we may miss them for ever. That is why we have built a major schools component into our recent recruitment campaign. It started in April, but it has been delayed by the Covid epidemic; it will restart shortly. I have commended it a couple of times already, but I reassure the noble Baroness that it has a hefty schools component to it, which I understand is working extremely well.

Sitting suspended.