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We will put diversity at the heart of our strategy

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In the Summer of 2020, Professor Neil Mortensen, President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, commissioned an independent review into the diversity of the leadership of the surgical profession and of the College. He responds to the publication of its findings:

‘I’m grateful to Baroness Helena Kennedy QC for her first-class leadership of this independent review. Equally I would like to thank every panel member for dedicating their time and expertise, and everyone who submitted evidence.

‘The College commissioned this important work last summer in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, and following the election of four white men to senior College leadership positions, all in the shadow of the first wave of COVID-19. The pandemic has highlighted inequality in our society and disproportionately affected ethnic minorities, and those living in the toughest social economic conditions. The gender pay gap in medicine is another marker of inequality and December’s ‘Mend the Gap’ report showed the extent to which this is a problem in surgery too.

‘The personal testimonies in the report, with examples of racism and sexism are painful to read. I thank all those who have courageously spoken out. They have opened our eyes to the scale of the problem. Now we have to act. If we don’t, we risk losing the confidence of our colleagues, we risk losing talented and brilliant recruits to surgery and we risk failing in our mission of enabling surgeons to achieve and maintain the highest standards of surgical practice and patient care. As leaders of the surgical community it is our duty to call out discrimination, work to put right the wrongs, and promote equality, diversity and inclusion in surgery.

‘That is why, although it may be very uncomfortable, we have to hold up a mirror to ourselves, and tackle head on the problems identified in this report. We must stop the unacceptable behaviours, the unconscious bias and the prejudice which prevent women and those from other ethnic backgrounds making progress in a surgical career, from joining our Council and taking positions of leadership. I welcome the honesty of the report and the ambition and scope of its recommendations.

‘The reason we commissioned this independent review, was to get expert advice on how our College should reform and change the future culture of surgery. Now we must act on that advice. As the professional home of almost 30,000 surgeons, we have a duty to set an example.

‘Today I am proud to confirm that we will commit to support the vision developed by the review, and put diversity at the heart of the College’s strategy. Our commitment will be tangible and time-specific: We will adopt the reform target set by this report - that within two Presidential terms, the Leadership and Council will reflect the diversity of the wider medical workforce.

‘Also we will commit today to investing in a Parents in Surgery study and strategy, a new flagship programme. The review team told us they believe this is the single most important thing that the College can do to support working parents, so we commit to taking this forward. Roles and responsibilities in society are changing, but the surgical model has not kept up. We know from analysis of the gender pay gap the importance of supporting both men and women to work more flexibly including less than full time working when they need to care for young children.

‘Finally, we must address the wider systemic problems, through education and culture change. We will build on the College’s programmes and initiatives that support inclusion and diversity, and amplify our guidance and e-learning on Unconscious Bias through surgical education and training activities.’

Commenting on her role leading the review and the picture it paints of the College, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC said:

‘The Royal College of Surgeons of England has courageously chosen to hold up a mirror to itself. While the reflection may be difficult to look at, at first, it’s an important step on the road to becoming the sort of organisation the College would like to be and needs to be for the brilliant surgical community it leads.

‘The College is a special institution, and it is at a really exciting moment in its 200-year history, with the completion of its new building later this year. It is the perfect moment in time to embark on a cultural shift, an opening of the doors and the creation of an ambience of welcome for all.

‘It was a great privilege to be asked to lead this Review and I hope the College will take it to heart and make it one of its building blocks for the next stage in its illustrious history.’

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