President's open letter on systemic racism

Online news
14 July 2020

The RCPsych President Dr Adrian James has written an open letter in response to two letters from a group of psychiatrists concerning systemic racism.

The group of psychiatrists wrote a letter which was published in the Guardian newspaper on 1 July, and a follow-up letter on 10 July. .

Dr James has responded with the open letter below.

An open letter from Dr Adrian James, President of RCPsych

To the signatories of the Call for Action on Institutional Racism within Psychiatry letter dated 1 July 2020 sent to the President

Thank you very much for your letter dated 1 July.

I very much agree with your analysis that racism and discrimination have a devastating impact on those viewed as ‘other’ and that the impact is very much de-humanising.

I also agree that there are persistent and pervasive inequalities in society that can result in members of the dominant group receiving daily benefits while others are disqualified, silenced, and attacked, or else rendered invisible.

Like you, I believe that systemic racism is one of the great ills of modern society and that it leads to appalling and unfair outcomes.

As such it must be rooted out, with no stone being left unturned. And that applies to mental health services and the NHS as much as anything else.

Two years ago, while I was Registrar, of the College, we produced a report entitled Racism and Mental Health.

In this report, we said: “We recognise that racism and racial discrimination is one of many factors which can have a significant, negative impact on a person’s life chances and mental health.

“We are particularly concerned about the disproportionate impact on people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, notably those of Black African and Caribbean heritage.

“Efforts to tackle this should be urgently prioritised by Government, non-governmental organisations and professional bodies.”

“Racism is pervasive and can manifest in several often-overlapping forms (including personal, cultural, structural and institutional racism).

 “Like other types of discrimination, it can lead to a profound feeling of pain, harm and humiliation among members of the target group, often leading to despair and exclusion.”

In this report, we made a number of far reaching recommendations, including urging the Department of Health and Social Care to: “Establish a Health and Social Care Observatory to monitor, track implementation and report on the impact of policy and practice on the mental health of patients, including Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups.”

I have always seen this report as a staging post, not a destination, and I want us to go further.

As such, during the election for the role of RCPsych President, I campaigned on a platform of promoting diversity and equality, among other things.

The urgency around the need to promote equality and diversity was profoundly reinforced by the shocking murder of George Floyd – a tragedy to which we responded by being the first Medical Royal College to place a statement on the home page of our website condemning all forms of racism.

I have acted swiftly to put measures in place to enable us, as a College, to tackle systemic racism and promote race equality.

I created two new posts, entitled Presidential Leads for Race Equality and I ensured that both these posts were filled by the day I took up office on 1 July.

My Presidential Leads for Race Equality are Dr Shubulade Smith CBE, who is a consultant psychiatrist and an academic, and Dr Raj Mohan, who is a consultant psychiatrist and member of our governing Council, as well as being the chair of our Rehabilitation Faculty.

In order to put together an ambitious new race equality strategy, which will look closely at the training curricula, practice guidelines and much else, I am putting together a Race Equality Taskforce.

This group will be diverse and contain people with relevant expertise and knowledge, as well as lived experience and a history of calling out racism.

Among its members will be our two Presidential Leads for Race Equality, our Registrar Dr Trudi Seneviratne, our Dean Dr Kate Lovett, the chair of our Transcultural Special Interest Group Dr Shahid Latif, our Associate Dean for Trainee Support Dr Israel Adebukun and Dr Ananta Dave, who chaired our task and finish group which explored the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on Black, Asian and minority ethnic healthcare staff and produced recommendations for risk assessment and mitigation to protect them in healthcare settings.

The Race Equality Taskforce will also be co-chaired by myself and our Chief Executive Paul Rees, who was the first black CEO of any Medical Royal College.

I will be asking the Race Equality Taskforce to produce its initial draft race equality strategy by late October.

I am confident that our Race Equality Taskforce will deliver a wide-ranging and ambitious strategy that will help the College tackle systemic racism head on and promote race equality.

I considered your suggestion of an independent commission carefully. However, there have been several reviews and reports that have already made strong and relevant recommendations. My desire is to turn already-existing proposals into action and use the learning of those reviews as the starting point for our Race Equality Taskforce. Commissions are time-consuming and a setting up a new one now would, in my view, slow our work down.

By pushing ahead and rapidly drawing up a race equality strategy, we are responding to calls from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people who believe that there are already enough recommendations about what needs to be done out there, and want those words translated into a plan for action.

I fervently hope that you will support us in our drive to tackle systemic racism.

Yours sincerely

Dr Adrian James, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists