NHS pledges to scrap BAME terms as they’re ‘not representative or universally popular’

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Following feedback from an independent body, the use of terms such as BAME, BME or “ethnic minority” will no longer be used across the NHS. The NHS Race and Health Observatory found such terminology can harm identities across the UK. It also claimed such terms influence a broad-brush approach to understanding ethnic inequality across the UK and found current terms are not “universally popular”.

It read: “Generic collective terms such as ‘BAME’, ‘BME’ and ‘Ethnic Minority’ are not representative or universally popular, according to the latest results of a consultation led by the NHS Race and Health Observatory.”

The Observatory also claimed the Black Lives Matter movement had sparked a new debate into how diverse the UK is.

Dr Habib Naqvi, director of the Observatory, said: “The communities we engage and work with needed to be at the centre of these broad conversations before the Observatory took a final decision on its own approach towards terminology use.

“We hope that the proposed principles will help others to reflect on their own approaches to language use.

“This is not the end of the conversation as we remain open to revisit preferences over time.”

Of the 5,104 people, the phrase “ethnic minority” was the least unpopular term with 37.9 percent unhappy.

The BAME acronym came in with the second-highest number of people being “happy” with the term.

However, there was no overall term that people were more happy than unhappy with.

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Annette Hay, Chair of Coventry University Race Equality Council, said: “This was a very timely and much needed discussion centred around the discourse on the growing number of generic and sometimes disagreeable terms used to describe individuals and communities who fall outside of the contrasting ‘white British/white other’ ethnic categories.

“I found the discussion very dynamic and engaging, because like many others, it is something that I have personally battled with and against for a long time now.

“There were some very compelling arguments for and against the use of various phrases, acronyms and terminology, most of which seemed to reinforce the need for more conversations and consultations, so that we might find new and more nuanced ways of referencing, describing and analysing, typically marginalised and minoritised groups”.

Although white British respondents made up the largest group of respondents (38 percent), they were not counted where key questions asked whether individuals were comfortable being identified “as part of a collective” group of people who are not White British.


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Focus Group participant, Clarissa Gardner, Researcher in Digital Health at Imperial College London, said: “There are various opinions around the use of collective terms such as BAME and BME amongst people from ethnic minority communities in the UK.

“The focus group discussions served as a space to hear about individuals’ complex relationships with their race, ethnic background, nationality, and place of residence, and how this informed their opinions on the use of collective terms.

“It also allowed us to address each other regarding other terms or phrasings related to race and ethnicity that we find acceptable or unacceptable. Such ongoing discussions are vital for ensuring that our choice of language evolves with the times.”

The survey was open from July 13 until August 10, while ethnicity categories were used from the 2021 Census.

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Following the survey, the Observatory hosted a series of five focus group discussions with around 100 participants, including stakeholders with a professional interest, during September and October.

Facilitator, Jacynth Ivey, a non-executive director of Birmingham Community Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust and Managing Director of Inspiring Hope, said:

“This work, to explore the impact that language has on individuals as well as policy-making decisions within the wider healthcare system, has been challenging but crucial.

“We thank all participants for giving their time to support and engage in this important exercise.

“Whilst the Observatory was already committed to using specific terms where possible and avoiding acronyms, this engagement has provided greater insight into the diverse range of views held.”

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