In a period where all of our personal and work lives have already faced enormous challenges, the past couple of weeks must have been particularly difficult for our Fellows and Members across the world who are from the BAME communities.
Amidst a worldwide condemnation of the killing of George Floyd, an African-American man who died horrific circumstances in Minneapolis on 25 May, last week also saw the publication of a report by NHS England which showed that people from ethnic minorities are disproportionately affected by coronavirus.
The continued evidence of acts of racism, and the prevalence of systematic, racism in our society is deeply troubling. Equality is essential for all of us, not just those currently facing disadvantage or discrimination. I chose promoting inclusivity as one of the priority areas for my presidency, and we’ve been engaged in a range of work to promote equality. This has included raising concerns about the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on our BAME membership with NHS employers and governments, and publicly calling for NHS bodies across the UK to work urgently to develop a plan of action to address this critical issue. While we are making progress, there’s much to be done, and we’ll continue to work positively and constructively to advance the agenda for equality wherever we can. Within our own College we are working to ensure that we are as representative of the workforce as possible. As we seek to rebuild healthcare services after this crisis, be assured that we will play our part in ensuring that we recognise the ongoing need to tackle health inequalities wherever they’re found. Everyone matters, and everyone matters equally must be one of our founding principles.
On Tuesday this week we held the latest of our regular webinars, on this occasion focussing on the approaches being taken to re-start clinical services during the recovery phase. Dr Alastair McKinlay, Dr Carey Lunan and Mr Nigel Mercer explored ways in which the NHS can use this phase as an opportunity to transform and enhance patient care.
As the first wave of COVID-19 is waning, quite rightly the focus is shifting to how we restart urgent, planned and elective care.
None of us underestimates the task that is at hand. First and foremost, we need to be able to ensure that patients can be kept safe and that they feel secure. There will be an ongoing need for infection prevention and control and social distancing, and that will have a significant impact on our capacity to provide inpatient and outpatient activity.
New ways of working which have developed rapidly over the course of the pandemic – including virtual and remote consultations will help that process, but of course many of the things that we do have to be face to face.
The workforce over the course of the last few months has really risen to the challenge spectacularly, and I know that we’re all very, very grateful for the incredible work that everyone’s doing. I know that everyone is going to continue to work as hard as they can to help this recovery phase. But our workforce has been pushed, fatigue is an issue: we know that the answer to capacity problems is not to ask people to work even harder. It’s encouraging that the focus on wellbeing that this pandemic has brought about is continuing, but there really needs to be an appreciation that the workforce has to have an opportunity to recover and to take some time away from the intense face-to-face contact that we’ve been experiencing.
Following on from this, just as patients need to feel safe in hospitals, our healthcare professionals also need to feel that their work environment is safe. We need to have the appropriate equipment, a testing strategy and we have a responsibility to follow appropriate social distancing rules wherever possible.
Finally, it isn’t just clinical work, which needs to be ramped up. It is essential that all of our other important professional responsibilities are re-started: teaching, training, education and CPD. Our doctors in training have been significantly impacted on by the pandemic, and we must help them with career progression and ensure that we develop the consultants for the future. These are the issues that our college is grappling with now, and we’re making sure we’re engaged with employers, policy makers and governments, trying to influence decisions at every level on your behalf.
In closing, despite all of the challenges that we’ve faced in the work place over the course of this pandemic, there have been some fantastic examples of good practice emerging from this crisis. Prompted by a similar survey by NHS England, we’ve set up our own study to gather these in order to highlight best practice and influence the planning of future services. The survey takes less than 5 minutes to complete, and you can take part now by clicking this link.
Thanks again for your hard work, professionalism and support over the past weeks and months.
Professor Jackie Taylor