DAUK in the Eastern Eye: the NHS owes a debt of gratitude to its Asian staff

The NHS marks its 72nd birthday on Sunday, a welcome celebration after the most challenging year it has endured in its history due to the coronavirus crisis.

For the estimated 118,000 doctors, nurses and staff from south Asia working on the frontline in the battle against Covid-19, it will be a time to reflect on the contribution of professionals from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka since its birth.

More than 10,000 medics from south Asia kept the NHS going in its early years and are praised for helping to shape modern general practice.

By the 1980s, 16 per cent of GPs were from south Asia, according to book Migrant architects of the NHS: South Asian doctors and the reinvention of British general practice (1940s-1980s).

They often worked in inner cities and industrial areas in Glasgow, the Midlands, Manchester and East London, which were ravaged by poverty at a time when many UK-born medics chose to work abroad. Today, people of south Asian origin make up around 30 per cent of medical staff in the organisation.

Another doctors-led organisation campaigning for medics is The Doctors’ Association UK (DAUK), which was
founded in 2018.

Dr Rinesh Parmar, chair of the Doctors’ Association UK (DAUK), said he was torn between a career in medicine or law when growing up in Birmingham, but volunteering in healthcare “cemented the idea of a career as a doctor.”

He told Eastern Eye: “I was able to see first-hand the dedication of NHS staff to caring for their patients.

“Their selfless commitment to going over and above to ensure patients were comfortable and safe was truly an inspiration to me.

“My interest in the law never really faded over the years and in some part, it is responsible for my desire and sense of duty to campaign for doctors, patient safety and the wider NHS as chair of
the DAUK.”

Among the issues that organisations, including the BMA and DAUK, have been highlighting are the obstacles faced by BAME medics in climbing the career ladder and discrimination from colleagues
or patients.

Figures in 2019 showed that Asians made up just 4.6 per cent of “very senior managers” in the health service – compared to 92.9 per cent among white people – and just 6.1 per cent of senior roles
and 8.9 per cent of middle management positions. And BAME doctors are less likely to raise concerns than their white colleagues and more likely to feel less safe at work.

Dr Parmar added: “While the NHS has a truly multicultural workforce, there remains a lot still to be done to eliminate discrimination of BAME workers.

“Our BAME colleagues are more than twice as likely to be referred to their regulator compared to white colleagues.

“White colleagues remain more likely to be appointed after shortlisting and BAME colleagues make up only 8.4 per cent of NHS Trust Boards.

“More recently, we have seen BAME colleagues disproportionately affected by Covid-19. While these issues remain, my colleagues at the Doctors’ Association

UK and I remain steadfastly committed to fighting for a better NHS for staff and patients alike.”