Event Details
Date: 15 November 2022

Location name: Royal College of Surgeons England

Location address: 35-43 Lincoln's Inn Fields,


by Evelyn Mensah

On Tuesday 15 November 2022, I entered the Royal College of Surgeons of England for the first time in my life. The reason was that this beautiful building was hosting the inaugural British Association of Black Surgeons (BABS) conference. Black spaces are important because systemic racism, particularly anti-Blackness, is rife within the NHS. Recent data from the General Medical Council’s Tackling Disadvantage in Medical Education reports notably poorer outcomes for Black doctors, particularly UK graduates of Black or Black British heritage.

This racial disparity which impacts Black doctors more than our white counterpart reveals lower pass rates in specialty exams, longer training programmes, less successful training programme applications and a persistent differential attainment gap. The aim to foster long-term excellence for surgeons, students and patients through an active programme of shared learning, community and advocacy. The goal of BABS is to help build a more diverse, inclusive leadership across the UK’s surgical landscape that better serves its patients whilst offering equity of opportunity for all. I’m proud to be a member of BABS and this conference was excellent. I loved every minute of it but would like to describe just a few of the highlights for me.

CEO and Chair of trustees, Sarah Itam, Consultant Urological Surgeon, opened this historic event with the five reasons why BABS is essential:

  1. Difficulty entering medical school, even when we achieve equivalent entry A-level grades as our white peers.
  2. Less likely to get our first choice of foundation programme and more likely to apply for further training immediately after Foundation Year 2 training.
  3. Less support and feedback during surgical training.
  4. More likely to have non-standard ARCP (Annual Review of Competency Progression) outcomes and fail specialty exams.
  5. Promoted far less than white colleagues with the lowest proportion of consultant surgeons of all ethnicities.

BABS patron, Lord Victor Adebowale CBE, was the first speaker. He started by telling us that the system is rigged against Black people and that systemic racism is refusing to budge impacting training, development, career access and AI. He also mentioned how whenever he wants to talk about racism with healthcare colleagues, they will do the typical deflection of ‘whataboutery’, stating that it isn’t all about race, but other issues too. Lord Adebowale said he can set his watch for a ‘whataboutery’ question, and the record is three and a half minutes!

Samantha Tross, BABS trustee and Consultant Trauma and Orthopaedic Surgeon, presented the data on adverse referrals and outcomes to our regulator, the General Medical Council (GMC). Did you know that Global Majority doctors are twice as likely likely to be referred to the GMC than our white counterparts? For international medical graduates it is up to three times more likely.

An important fact that I learnt at the BABS conference was that if it wasn’t for the exemplary research conducted by Professor Frank Chinegwundoh MBE, we would be unaware of the statistic that if you are Black, there is a two to three times greater risk for men developing prostate cancer. Professor Chinegwundoh was interviewed by Professor Kingsley Ekwueme. In 1996, when Professor Chinegwundoh was a junior consultant, he noticed that there were more Black men with prostate cancer in the advanced stages than white men. So he asked the question why and did the research. In doing so, he contacted patients directly to gather ethnicity data. This laborious, manual exercise has helped to save lives for which we have to thank Professor Chinegwundoh because at that time, the Office of National Statistics had no data.

I loved listening to Martin Griffiths CBE DL tell us his ‘Journey in Surgery: A Diverse Surgical Career’. He described how he attended a regular school in south-east London and was advised by a Black teacher who invested in him. This buttressed the solid foundation one requires to succeed when your teachers believe in you. In addition he had supportive parents and he did well at school. Once Mr Griffiths became a higher surgical trainee after passing FRCS, he described how he was in the spotlight as the only Black surgical trainee in the country, which must have been quite overwhelming because there is no other race where the actions of one person dictates how everyone of that race should behave. Mr Griffiths is the National Clinical Director for Violence Reduction in NHS England. It was great to hear how he and his team have used compassion, practical support and delivering to the community to significantly reduce readmission rates for stab injuries from 35% to 1% in six months. Mr Griffiths ended his talk by saying everything that happens is not despite, but because of, our story, and that it will all be okay in the end. He really was an inspirational speaker.

The final keynote speaker was Lord Simon Woolley Kt, who started by saying “we are making history.” He told us that it was “important to show the next generation of Black surgeons just what Black excellence looks like.” Lord Woolley said that his heart was filled with what he saw before him, going on to quote Martin Luther King Jr by saying that we have to be in a position to demand justice, stand up and be counted, own our voice and demand change. These were all calls to action to change the trajectory of the current NHS system. Lord Woolley ended by thanking the “Golden Thread” of the BABS organising committee for the conference, namely Sarah Itam, Professor Frank Chinegwundoh MBE, Samantha Tross, Susannah La-Touche and Jonathan Noël, for whom I gave a resounding round of applause. Many congratulations on an excellent first conference. I look forward to the BABS conference in 2023.

BABS website: https://babs-uk.org/