27 July 2023
As an NHS health professional of many decades and international medical graduate, I deeply understand the significance of recognising and harnessing the knowledge diaspora staff bring, gained through their professional education abroad and their profound understanding of diverse communities. It is disheartening to witness how these vital contributions are often overlooked and undervalued within the NHS.
Inequalities based on race continue to persist in our healthcare system, necessitating a proactive and direct approach to address this issue. In 2020, I had the privilege of co-authoring a special issue on racism in medicine, published by the BMJ. This issue shed light on the injustices faced by ethnic minority doctors and patients, including the alarming disparities in maternal mortality rates between black and white women, as well as the gaps in performance and disciplinary procedures that disproportionately affect ethnic minority doctors. These findings clearly demonstrated that achieving true equality within our healthcare system is an ongoing and essential journey.
To make tangible progress in combating discrimination and closing the attainment gap, we must foster an environment of strong leadership, vision, and improved learning opportunities for diaspora staff joining our NHS. We all have a role to play in driving action and contributing to the growth of an NHS that truly nurtures and develops its multinational workforce.
Progress in addressing discrimination has been slow, and many barriers remain in our path. Variations in specialty training applications, differential attainment, and other aspects of career progression persist and highlight the need for continuing commitment to affect a cultural shift within the NHS. Mere rhetoric is not enough; we must implement tangible behaviours and policies that empower individuals and organisations to bring about the change we so desperately need. Against this background, it is encouraging that organisations including NHS England, several medical Royal Colleges, the General Medical Council and others are developing strategies to progress towards race equality in the NHS.
Recognising the Experts in Our Midst
It is high time that we recognize that diaspora bring immense additional value to the NHS. Many have trained and worked in low- and middle-income countries where resources are limited. By embracing their expertise, understanding their unique perspectives, and actively working to dismantle racial inequalities, we can create a healthcare system that genuinely serves and uplifts all communities. THET’s Experts in Our Midst programme is dedicated to acknowledging the remarkable contributions made by diaspora staff within the NHS.
In 2021, the Tropical Health and Education Trust (THET) released the report, Experts in Our Midst: Recognising the contribution NHS diaspora staff make to global health, which showcased the invaluable contributions of diaspora staff to both the NHS and the health systems in their countries of heritage. The report also shed light on the challenges these staff members face, including unconscious bias and systemic racism, which hinder the utilisation of their knowledge both within the NHS and in global health initiatives supported by the UK Government.
To further amplify these voices and shed light on the expertise and knowledge we so desperately need, THET has launched the Diaspora Staff and Global Health survey. This survey serves as a vital platform for diaspora staff to share their stories, combat the barriers that prevent their skills from being fully recognised, and ultimately shape a more inclusive future for our healthcare system. I urge all diaspora colleagues to take advantage of this opportunity to have their voices heard and make a lasting impact.
Together, let us wholeheartedly commit ourselves to building a more equitable and inclusive future for our healthcare system—one that values and harnesses the expertise of all healthcare professionals, regardless of their background or heritage.