Intended for healthcare professionals


RCP: Voluntary appointments must reflect diversity of medical workforce

BMJ 2020; 370 doi: (Published 30 July 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;370:m3051
  1. Abi Rimmer
  1. The BMJ

The Royal College of Physicians must do more to fill voluntary roles with people from more diverse backgrounds, a review has said.

Voluntary roles at the college cover a wide range of activities, including acting as trustees, committee members, members of the patient and carer network, and examiners.

The review was conducted by Ben Summerskill, previously chief executive of the charity Stonewall and a commissioner at the Equality and Human Rights commission, to assess the college’s performance on diversity in its workforce and to make recommendations.

It found that just over a third (39%) of UK members of the RCP were from an ethnic minority background and that overall diversity in the membership was aligned to that in the wider medical world.1 However, some members of the college believed that people in the voluntary positions didn’t reflect the diversity of the membership. One commented, “I’ve only met one other person of colour in the patient and carer network. It’s not very diverse. I don’t know if I’m the only black volunteer.”

Summerskill said the college should set an ambition that by 2030 people in voluntary and staff roles should reflect the diversity of the qualified medical workforce, at all levels, including trustees and the RCP council. He said that “too many” members thought that voluntary roles at the college were not open to a wide enough range of people.

There also seemed to be no guidance on how non-elected vacancies should be made known to members, how a recruitment process should work, how a panel interview should be conducted, and how roles should be explained to potential applicants, Summerskill said.

“Where there is such vagueness, potential applicants from historically under-represented groups are more likely to think that such roles will be allocated ‘on the nod,’” he wrote.

Many members were also unclear about what voluntary roles involved. “There’s also a belief that there are traditional ‘ways of behaving’ that are both expected and central to effective operation in such roles,” Summerskill said.

Among his recommendations Summerskill said that the college should advertise all voluntary roles and include clear details of the expectations of time and expertise necessary.

“Introduce and advertise a presumption that such roles can be job shares,” he said. “Re-advertise such roles after an appropriate, RCP-wide tenure such as 6 or 8 years.”

In writing the report Summerskill was supported by an advisory panel from the RCP who carried out 22 face to face interviews with stakeholders, including college members and employees. A further 1090 members, staff, and stakeholders responded to an online survey between October 2019 and January 2020.

Commenting on the report Andrew Goddard, the RCP’s president, said that the report’s publication was very timely, “coinciding with the renewed urgency given to improving diversity by Black Lives Matter protests, and at a time when the disproportionate impact of covid-19 on some communities has been keenly felt by all of us in the health sector.”

He added, “These are challenging times, and this report, followed swiftly by our action plan, will help to ensure that we have the best people working for us and with us, able to contribute fully to our work.”


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