News that the Royal Society of Medicine (RSM) have axed the Black and Ethnic Minority (BEM) Health Committee without sufficient consultation of its membership and the wishes of the current committee has been met with shock from across the community.
The BEM Health Committee was established by consultant urological surgeon Dr Frank Chinegwundoh back in 2001. Its role was to provide an academic forum to promote the understanding of topics, which are of special relevance to black and ethnic minority health.
Like all other sections at the RSM, this forum has educated health professionals, raised discussions on current trends in the area of healthcare and acted as an information resource for RSM members and allied health care professionals.
In spite of the successes of this committee over the past 10 years, in February this year, the RSM informed the BEM committee that they would be shut down because they had not held a sufficient number of successful meetings over the past two years. They were told to prove there was an interest in their work and that they were relevant by holding a successful conference in 2013.
Under the leadership of a new president and new Council members, the BEM Health Section put on a successful one day conference on Mental Health last week, but despite the high turnout and success of this event, the RSM decided a day before this conference to axe this Section.
This has left the RSM absent of any academic focus on ethnicity and healthcare, and sparked widespread concerns over the health care implications for ethnic minority communities across the country as a result.
Dr Frank Chinegwundoh founder and current Council member of the BEM Health Section said:
‘We want the dean of the RSM and the Chief Executive Officer and president to reverse their decision which they made without sufficient engagement with the sections members
This BEM Health Section was established 12 years ago because of the recognition of the importance of having a specialist clinical focus on ethnic minorities and health. This need still exists and the success of our mental health conference is evidence of this.
This health section is very important as it is for anyone who is interested in health conditions as they relate to ethnic minority groups. It is not for black people. It is a forum on health issues that affect black and ethnic minority groups. We have had good meetings over the years on many topics such as HIV, maternal mortality, sickle cell and prostate cancer. The cancer tsar spoke at a meeting we held on cancer in ethnic minorities.’
Dr Nelda Elizabeth Frater former president and Council member of BME Health section said:
‘ we were told if we held a successful meeting that the BME Health section wouldn’t be axed but the decision was made on Thursday ahead of the meeting, even though we had been given this undertaking.
There are issues of universal late presentation where those from within ethnic minority communities present to health services very late when their condition is irreversible. We need an educational forum to look at questions and answers to these issues. This was pointed out by one of the delegates who attended the conference.’
Matilda MacAttram director of Black Mental Health UK said:
‘The RSM is a very respected and old establishment and the response by the community will be to immediately question the commitment of this esteemed institution to tackling ethnic inequalities in health. Local communities will quite rightly be shocked and even angered that the RSM has chosen to make this decision, BMH UK adds it’s voice to calls that it is urgently reconsidered.’
Lee Jasper founding member of African Caribbean Mental Health Commission said:
‘In the context of the continuing racial disparities in health it is absolutely vital that the BME Health Section at the RSM is allowed to continue.
Doctors and other clinicians need to have a place in such a respected institution to discuss issues around ethnic diversity in health issues and clinical approaches in tackling these issues.
The Royal Society of Medicine should urgently reconsider this decision as it will have a very profound effect on the health of black and ethnic minority people in the UK.’