Shining a light on inequalities

The past few weeks have highlighted racial inequalities across society, the health and social care sector, and the optical profession


A new area of focus has arisen over the past few weeks in conversations with friends and colleagues, in the news and on social media.

We have seen a renewed spotlight on racism across sectors, as protests supporting the Black Lives Matter movement have been held around the world, sharing stories of racial prejudice and discrimination, while reports on the disparities of risk from coronavirus (COVID-19) have highlighted inequalities in health care outcomes.

The latest data from Public Health England (PHE), has found that people in Black and Asian Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups are at a higher risk from the virus. The PHE report found that people of Bangladeshi ethnicity are twice as likely to die of COVID-19 compared to white people, when accounting for the effect of sex, age, deprivation and region.

Talking to OT, optometrist and AOP councillor, Nizz Sabir, emphasised the mental health impact of these statistics for BAME practitioners: “The fear of spreading [the virus] to family members is a concern for BAME members.”

He added: “There is a need for understanding the risks in highly dense populations and potentially the risk to the workforce and service provision in those areas where there is a large BAME population.”

Now, a series of social media polls and a thread of testimonies have highlighted incidents of racism experienced by optometrists in practice.

Organised by Hamza Mussa, who runs an Instagram account called ‘The Crazy Optom,’ a poll of over 800 people found 82% of respondents had experienced racism in practice. When asked what happened after raising an incident of racism to a manager or director, a further poll of over 500 people found 81% of respondents said the patient was still seen.

Speaking to OT, Mr Mussa commented: “Especially with everything in the news at the moment, you hear about racism but do we ever take a closer look to home to see if there is racism and bias in our own profession?”

Encouraging optometrists to contact him with their experiences, he told us he had received over 250 messages, with 192 agreeing for their stories to be shared more widely.

“It’s heartbreaking for me. At the same time it’s good to shine a light on it, because this stuff was all there in the first place – it’s not new,” Mr Mussa commented. “At least I’m able to help someone feel better. Shining a light on it, however hard it is to read, has achieved some good.”

I would encourage you to take some time to visit ‘The Crazy Optom’ Instagram page and watch the saved stories under ‘Racism in optics.’ Read the stories shared by optometrists who have experienced racism in practice, and reflect. Do keep an eye out as well for our interview with Mr Mussa on the outcomes of the polls.

In the meantime, the OT team are listening, and if you would like to share your experiences with us, you are welcome to get in touch.

Finally, if you have felt affected by any of these issues discussed, don’t hesitate to get in touch with the AOP’s confidential helpline, the Peer Support Line for a space to talk.

OT  asks…

as an optometrist within Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities, or as an optometrist working alongside a BAME colleague, have you experienced incidents of racism within practice?
  • Yes, I have experienced racism in practice

    168 69%
  • No, I have not experienced racism in practice

    16 6%
  • I have witnessed incidents of racist behaviour in practice

    39 16%
  • I have not witnessed incidents of racist behaviour in practice

    20 8%