First BAME primary care network launches in Leeds

The first network in Leeds for primary care professionals from Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds aims to draw members from across healthcare sectors

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“We are ready for change and our network are your change-makers,” is the key message from a new network for Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) staff working in primary care in Leeds.

The network aims to address health and social inequalities affecting BAME staff and communities.

Two days after the 72nd anniversary of the NHS, the new BAME network held its first virtual event, with speakers representing NHS England, the NHS Leeds Clinical Commissioning Group, Leeds GP Confederation and Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust.

Ahead of the event, GP Dr Mohammed Sattar, who spearheaded the network, explained: “Working in primary care we get to see first-hand how inequalities can lead to issues affecting a person’s health and wellbeing. These inequalities have become more apparent as COVID-19 took hold in the UK and has highlighted that we need to do much more to help the most disadvantaged people in the city.”

With the added strength of colleagues working in optometry, as well as dentistry and community pharmacy, we can look at how we pivot the way we actively involve, engage and shape services around our communities

Dr Mohammed Sattar, GP at Woodhouse Medical Practice


Last month, Public Health England released a report indicating the disparity in the risks and outcomes of COVID-19 for those within BAME communities.

Reflecting on this report, Dr Sattar said: “I’m a passionate believer that if we get this right for BAME communities, other sections of society will also benefit. Now is the time for action.”

The network is encouraging colleagues across primary care to get involved, including those based in GP practices, optometry, pharmacy and dentistry. The network also hopes to inspire other similar networks nationally.

OT spoke to Dr Mohammed Sattar, GP at Woodhouse Medical Practice, who spearheaded the BAME primary care network in Leeds, to find out more about the network and why optometrists should get involved.

Dr Mohammed Sattar
GP Dr Mohammed Sattar, who spearheaded the network

What led to the establishment of the network?

Our inaugural meeting took place in March this year, however we have now taken a much more concerted approach to setting up the network. Our ambition is to demonstrate the value BAME colleagues can bring to tackling health inequalities and workforce issues. This will reflect the research that shows diverse teams deliver better outcomes and experience for all.

COVID-19 has acted as a catalyst for us to get system leaders and allies in the city on board so that we benefit from their experience and their willingness to join us in this complex and, at times, uncomfortable journey towards change. We all have a story to share of our lived experience, whether in the workplace or as a patient of BAME background. The February 2020 BMJ bumper edition entitled ‘Racism in Medicine’ was a real call to action. Whilst some reflected: ‘plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose,’ [the more things change, the more they stay the same] others became ‘first followers’ and our network was born.

The network has been established to tackle inequalities affecting the NHS workforce and communities. What are some of the key areas you would like to address for each of those groups?

We don’t need to repeat the evidence that all of us will have seen about the disproportionate impact COVID-19 is having on the BAME workforce and our communities. The inequalities have always been there and now they have been scrutinised and laid bare at a national, as well as regional or local level. Other global events, such as George Floyd losing his life, have shone a light on the systemic issues that continue to affect BAME people.

One of our ambitions will be to change the leadership structures and the fact that one in five NHS employees is from a BAME background, but boards and governing bodies do not reflect this. We need to ensure that our decision makers are reflective of our communities. This in itself will go a long way towards levelling the playing field for BAME people.

We want to create an embryonic workforce race equality standard in primary care that is embraced by primary care in Leeds and make equality and diversity everyone’s business. Why? Because it affects patient outcomes and that’s our core business

Dr Mohammed Sattar, GP at Woodhouse Medical Practice


We can develop culturally appropriate services that closely meet the needs of all communities and we want our network to use their own lived experience to shape this. We want to banish the idea that BAME communities, as well as other marginalised groups, are somehow hard to reach or hard to treat. Changing that mindset is a starting point. Let’s use our network to collect the thoughts of our peers but also our interaction with people, not just patients. We want to create an embryonic workforce race equality standard in primary care that is embraced by primary care in Leeds and make equality and diversity everyone’s business. Why? Because it affects patient outcomes and that’s our core business.

What will be your first key actions or messages?

As a newly formed network, our starting point is to come together and collaborate. We need to get the basics in place, such as terms of reference, and select a chair and other roles that can support the work of the network. We want members to then help us work on developing actions and objectives.

The key message at this stage is that we are ready for change and our network are your change-makers. I don’t want to limit our ambition. Join our network and we can work together to tackle the so-called ‘wicked’ problems [a term used to describe social or policy problems that are difficult to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, changeable and interconnected factors]. It’s important that this is a grassroots initiative. What makes the members tick will be what we focus on as priorities. We are open, whether you are BAME or an ally, whether you are wanting to focus on staff or patient experience. It’s all relevant and now is our time to be the lights that get in.

Why should optometrists get involved and what do you hope they can contribute or take away from the network?

Primary care is more than just GP practices. I want to stress that even though I’m a proud general practitioner, I know my practice wouldn’t be able to deliver care for our patients without our wider team. But with the added strength of colleagues working in optometry, as well as dentistry and community pharmacy, we can look at how we pivot the way we actively involve, engage and shape services around our communities. Many of my primary care colleagues will be practising in the heart of communities – you’ll bring us unique insights that we might not see in general practice. It reminds me of the Johari window model – you don’t know what you don’t know.

Do you hope networks such as this could be rolled out across the country?

Without a shadow of a doubt. All you need is enthusiasm, like-minded individuals and strong allies. We’d be happy to share learning and best practice. Indeed, we too are on a journey so we’re reaching out to others as part of our own learning. There is momentum. We started a movement and you can too.