I loved attending RCOphth Annual Congress face-to-face in Glasgow this year. How wonderful it was to see old friends and meet new after two pandemic years. At Congress I chaired the session on ‘Racism in the NHS’ with ‘three professors’ (Mala Rao, Anton Emmanuel and Partha Kar) who are all involved in NHS England’s Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES). In that session you will have heard about seven years’ worth of data collected from our agenda for change (Band 1 to very senior manager) colleagues and their experience of race disparity.
We also heard about the world’s first medical WRES (MWRES) which highlights the experience of doctors. Whilst our NHS is the most ethnically diverse workforce in the public sector, minoritised colleagues report worse experiences in terms of our working lives and careers, when compared to our white counterparts. This disparity impacts all occupational groups and is seen amongst doctors, from medical school to consultant posts. Doctors from an ethnic minority background are under-represented in senior NHS positions. In addition, ethnic minority doctors are over-represented as Specialty and Associate Specialist (SAS) doctors and in the locally employed (LE) doctors’ group. SAS and LE doctors report significantly worse experiences than any other groups of doctors.
People often ask me why I’m so passionate about race equity. For obvious reasons, as a Black, female ophthalmologist, born and bred in Newcastle-upon-Tyne of Ghanaian immigrants, who then had to navigate medical school and a medical career in London, I have a lot of lived experience. People then ask me why this matters. It matters because everyone has a right to feel as if they belong, are valued and supported. More importantly, racism impacts patient care. The disproportionate effect of COVID-19 on our diverse populations and the lived experiences voiced in the wake of the murder of George Floyd two years ago are both compelling reminders of why we must do everything we can to ensure that our NHS is antiracist.
Last weekend I fed my soul and eyes with Ghanaian-British excellence at the Southbank Centre in London. I attended the Hayward Gallery and saw an art exhibition (In the Black Fantastic) curated by Ekow Eshun. That same evening I attended the Royal Festival Hall and watched BAFTA and EMMY award-winning screenwriter and actress, Michaela Coel (“I May Destroy You”) interview Edward Enninful, as he celebrated the launch of his memoir, A Visible Man. We heard how Mr Enninful, who suffers with sickle-thalassaemia and has retinal problems, became the first Black Editor-in-Chief for British Vogue. He explained to us that whilst his vision is challenged, he has vision. Under his leadership he has transformed this century-old publication into our most successful to date. How? By diversifying the editorial team from 100% white to 25% people of colour.
For October/November Eye News, you will read about a lot of visionary innovation and global collaborations. Hing Chi Kristie Leung writes about how to get the most out of your ophthalmology elective. I still remember my elective in Ghana fondly and I am fortunate to be a trustee of the Moorfields Lions Korle-Bu charity, where together with the West African College of Surgeons, we have developed and co-deliver subspecialist courses to West African ophthalmologists in the teaching hospital in Ghana (another world first). Continuing with the international theme and links, Vision 2020 explores life as a Global Citizen Consultant Ophthalmologist, offering a personal view of working in Scotland and Tanzania. My subspecialty is medical retina where I manage patients with diabetic retinopathy. It’s no surprise to me that a woman, Dorothy Mary Crowfoot Hodgkin, was the first to discover the structure of insulin which has saved so many lives and eyesight. I look forward to reading more about 100 years of insulin. I am not sure if you are aware that as a surgical specialty, ophthalmology is the closest to gender parity. However, I believe it is becoming harder to acquire an ophthalmology specialist training (OST) post, but reading “2022 ST1 ophthalmology selection process” by Harry Rosen and “Mastering clinical skills in ophthalmology” by Sammie Mak will certainly help. I run a retinal laser course in Ghana and deliver the same course to OSTs in London with Professor Scanlon. Aiman Jamal’s article on outcomes of selective laser trabeculoplasty (SLT) laser used as a first-line treatment in ocular hypertension patients should be interesting. As someone who uses Twitter and is published because of it (another story, another time) I look forward to reviewing Paras Agarwal’s Top 5 Twitter accounts.
I’ll end this guest editorial as I started. For all who ask why there’s focus on racism in the NHS, please note that race is the house that is always on fire in Protected Characteristics Street. Yet you will read, see and hear neighbours ask why the fireman always goes there first. Antiracists like me will be permanent guests in that house until there is parity.