Why are surgeons playing identity politics?

The Royal College of Surgeons has called for BAME healthcare workers to be removed from the frontline.



The Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) says ethnic-minority healthcare workers should be removed from the frontline in the fight against coronavirus.

BAME staff ‘are a particularly at-risk group’, Professor Mortensen, president-elect of the RCS, told Sky News. ‘It’s important they are removed from danger’, he added.

Mortensen’s remarks follow new NHS guidance that BAME healthcare workers should be ‘risk assessed’ and possibly reassigned to work that leaves them at lesser risk.

While it is certainly true that ethnic-minorities have been disproportionately affected by the virus, as Rakib Ehsan has written about on spiked, there are many reasons why this could be: from a greater likelihood of underlying health conditions to multi-generational living conditions.

It certainly makes sense to limit contact to those most at risk, particularly where underlying health conditions are concerned. But the fact that certain risk factors might be more prevalent in some communities does not mean that race is a causal factor. Adopting a blanket, race-based policy would be deeply disturbing and divisive.

That top doctors can even imagine such a thing shows how ingrained racial identity politics has become at the top of society – even among the supposedly rational scientific elite.

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Neil McCaughan

2nd May 2020 at 3:47 pm

But but but Our NHS depends on foreigners. How could we do without them? And if we do struggle on without them, will they go back where they came from?

Paul Street

2nd May 2020 at 12:41 pm

It is DIVersity itself which DIVides.

Roger Jago

1st May 2020 at 9:03 pm

It seems impossible to avoid recognising ethnicity, despite accusations of racist, at any attempt to comment on differences. The big issue here is whether to respond to those apparently different vulnerabilities – by disadvantaging other ethnicities. I have been identified by NHS as ‘vulnerable’, but this ‘status’ disadvantages myself only, as I must stay at home (and not create more work for NHS by being vulnerable). Recognising that some ethnicities are more vulnerable will disadvantage others if withdrawn from front line tasks. One could argue that this knowledge should be taken into account for future jobs. One could also argue that other differences be recognised: perhaps NHS should recognise all differences by charging those who create more work by self-harming such as smoking, taking drugs, or being grossly overweight? Best to stop importing those who cannot meet job needs and/or have health characteristics that make them ‘vulnerable’, otherwise our obsession with Equality and Human Rights Acts will never be met.

Christopher Tyson

1st May 2020 at 6:40 pm

I read a comment by someone who said that the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on BAME’s was due to the fact that these groups were more likely to attend places of worship. This may be nonsense, but it is an idea, this person had the guts to put forward a thesis, rather than insinuation or implication. If we look at the people affected, did they have anything else in common apart from being BAME? Where they disproportionately, male or female, from the Philippines or Nigeria, who did they live with, what areas did they live in, did they go to work on public transport or drive. Where they surgeons or nurses, orderlies or cleaners? I’m just putting these things forward to make the point the BAME is not a homogeneous category.
If BMAE staff are to be re-assigned in accordance with the precautionary principle, (the category of BAME having been accepted without contention), who will replace them?
White people? I’m only filling in the blanks here, but BAME seems to mean ‘non white’, having said that, I’m not sure what ‘minority ethnic’ means, so there may be some white people in this category. Traditionally there have been a high proportion of Irish nurses, I don’t know whether they can be categorised as BAME.
To deal with the elephant in the room, are we calling for inquiries because people don’t wan to say what they really think? Is there a belief that BAME’s are being given all the dirty jobs? That duties are not being distributed fairly? That management are cavalier about health and safety for BAME staff?
Many of the questions are sociological, but given that identity politics is thriving in academia, it might be asking too much to expect social scientists to put a surgeon straight on identity politics.
We know that BAME’s are often employed in the public sector, the public sector has traditionally given protections regarding discrimination and supported equal opportunity. The NHS has recruited from certain communities and this too can become traditional and self-fulfilling, People often follow the same employment paths as their parents, and word will go around amongst ethnic minorities about where they can find jobs, which companies are ethnic friendly and which aren’t.
Are critics perhaps concerned about social mobility and believe that white people are getting the high prestige jobs away from the front line? I don’t think that these enquiries should be about politics and social mobility. I think that there is a place for these discussion, for all the attention given to identity politics, its practitioners are not offering much in the way of ideas or explanations. Calling out racism doesn’t takes us very far forward.
We have seen that many BAME’s in the NHS have high skilled positions, the NHS also provides employment for those who are lower skilled. Some may feel that BAME’s are under-represented in the higher echelons of society in other areas, but that is beyond the remit of what these enquiries should be dealing with.
It could be that the right people where doing the right jobs but that heath and safety was not sufficient. It could be that with a new virus, knowledge was not sufficient. It could be that these were NHS staff who happened to be BAME.
My concern is that we pre-suppose racial discrimination and causality, look for racial discrimination and find racial discrimination. The families deserve answers, and the NHS also needs to learn from this, but it would be unseemly if this where to descend into a political fight or an excuse for one.

Vivian Darkbloom

1st May 2020 at 5:44 pm

I wonder if the disproportionate number of BAME groups affected by the virus has anything to do with the fact that nobody seems to know the true number of people who reside temporarily or permanently in this country. Visitors are counted in but not counted out; people arrive for a holiday and stay on; Channel crossings are not always intercepted; migration from the EU has been underestimated by the ONS; and so on. I sometimes read that the official figure of 66 million is actually far higher if one takes into account supermarket stock and retail figures and utilities usage rather than rely on ONS and census figures; perhaps as high as 80 million. That seems pretty high; possibly the real figure lies somewhere between the two but who really knows?

BAME groups also tend to live in multi-generational households and/or in high-density urban housing, work in public-facing, healthcare, and “key-worker” roles, are poorer in general, and suffer disproportionately from conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Vitamin D deficiency in dark-skinned people must also be factored in.

As a group though, men in general and the elderly in particular are the hardest hit but I doubt very much whether there will be an inquiry into that statistic or a call for male health workers to withdraw from the front line.

L Strange

1st May 2020 at 4:27 pm

“Adopting a blanket, race-based policy would be deeply disturbing and divisive.”

More and more often that appears to be the Public Sector establishment’s aim.

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