Is racism really a problem in our profession?

The views expressed in this letter are those of the author’s. If you would like to submit a letter to The Pharmaceutical Journal, please click here.

I must comment on the perceptions of Elsy Gomez Campos, president of the UK Black Pharmacist Association, and Nigel Praities, who interviewed her for ‘There are too many excuses justifying the unjustifiable’, published in the August issue of The Pharmaceutical Journal.

Praities says the Black Lives Matter marches in the UK have led to “much soul-searching over the discrimination black people face in society”. Most people I talk to are dismayed at the associated lawlessness, including attacks on police and damage to buildings and statues.

He also implies that black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people are more susceptible to COVID-19 owing to inequality caused by societal discrimination. This is not the case; for example, some Asian groups are more prone to diabetes and some African groups to sickle cell anaemia.

Praities also implies that the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) is biased against BAME pharmacists in fitness-to-practise investigations. And surely students fail the preregistration exam because they didn’t meet the required standard, not because of the GPhC’s bias.

Gomez Campos is concerned that BAME candidates are excluded from achieving office, but there have been many Asian presidents of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS). If BAME candidates apply and are not appointed, there must have been a stronger candidate.

Gomez Campos makes several sweeping statements such as “discrimination, isolation and inequality is happening daily”; “people [… are being] isolated, physically attacked and [having] their reputations destroyed”; and “serious problem in pharmacy.” How can these comments be substantiated?

She also states that some black people are at a disadvantage because they have no family support networks here in the UK. Has she thought of overseas students who are here coping with the same issue?

The pharmacy culture she alludes to does not reflect my experience. I have never come across any discrimination. I have worked with black, white and Asian pharmacists in harmony. How can there be institutional racism when a substantial proportion of pharmacists seem to be Asian?

In the UK, I have appointed black candidates to senior positions. My workforce was mostly black when I worked in Africa. I did not discriminate against them; neither did they give me a hard time because I was English.

Gomez Campos says she does not want tokenism, but she seems to want preferential support for BAME students. She appears to pressure the RPS, the GPhC and pharmacy schools to tilt the slope of the playing field in their favour.

Looking for problems (particularly around race and gender) where they do not exist is common. Often this can attract the law of unintended consequences.

David Norris, Fellow, Royal Pharmaceutical Society

Dear David,

Thank you for your letter. I am glad that in your personal experience you have not witnessed any of your colleagues being subject to the discrimination described by Elsy in her interview, and it is good to hear about your fair approach as a manager. However, that does not mean that what Elsy describes does not exist or that her experience is not representative or valid for reporting in the journal.

Specifically, you question the mention of the impact of COVID-19 on BAME communities, but a recent review from Public Health England says that this may be explained by factors including “social and economic inequalities, racism, discrimination and stigma”.

Of course, the overrepresentation of members of BAME pharmacists in fitness-to-practise proceedings, and the ongoing differential in pass rates for the preregistration exam for black African candidates, are complicated issues, but the latter was subject of a report commissioned by the General Pharmaceutical Council in 2016, which said there were reports of “explicit prejudice and perceptions of implicit bias” against black students.

It is right that we continue to highlight both these issues in the journal, even if it sometimes makes for uncomfortable reading.

Best wishes,

Nigel Praities, executive editor, The Pharmaceutical Journal


Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ October 2020, Vol 305, No 7942;305(7942):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2020.20208414

You may also be interested in