A health and social care discussion that comes up regularly in the current climate is how to innovate and collaborate meaningfully in Scotland’s collective drive for recovery, renewal, and transformation.  

All agree that maximising the existing knowledge and talent of leading experts across Scotland can help pool ideas across the sector and ignite vital fresh sparks of inspiration.

We undoubtedly have world leading capabilities – in life sciences, pharmaceutical innovation, health technology and more – but we could be working better together, and part of this means fostering a better-balanced workforce with all encouraged to be part of a positive, innovation culture. 

Indeed, higher diversity in all its forms can be key to unlocking big solutions for Scotland – and the more we are able to draw on people from different backgrounds, the more we’ll be able to enrich the country’s talent pool with unique ideas and innovations.

With that in mind, I recently attended the Annual Meeting of the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO) Scotland Division with its key thematic focus being placed on Innovation in NHS Scotland.

There had been a gap of four years since BAPIO’s last in-person meeting, so it was an honour to be invited to deliver a presentation to attendees at the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh on innovation in NHS Scotland, and the support provided by InnoScot Health to support innovative ideas from that initial spark through to commercial success. 

I spoke about the InnoScot Health ethos of recognising that people of all backgrounds working within health and social care remain best placed to spot opportunities, solve problems and identify ways to make things better.

Alongside discussions on ‘Getting to grips with Artificial Intelligence’ and ‘A sustainable workforce’, an interesting session focusing on ‘Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion’ included speakers touching on such subjects as ‘dignity at work’, and ‘differential treatment and attainment’.

It was a significant area of attention for BAPIO and provided insightful views.

Ophthalmologist Su Ling Young of NHS Lothian presented research on how many doctors from Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds make it through ophthalmology training to become consultants. 

In firstly analysing gender, she noted around a 60/40 split of males to females at foundation year and trainee level, but only around 25% are women at consultant ophthalmologist level. Looked at in isolation, the gender disparity amongst ophthalmology trainees is not as pronounced, but there are still fewer female trainees compared with the total number of doctors in training, she believed.

Similarly, looking at ethnic background, non-white people are quite well-represented at trainee level, she noted, particularly those of an Asian background who made up 43.3% of trainee ophthalmologists in 2021, but by consultant level this had dropped to 31.8% in 2021 and there were also percentage drops across other non-white ethnic groups. 

Reasons for these disparities are not totally clear but suggestions to improve the situation could include creating a ‘soft landing course’ as paediatricians have for International Medical Graduates (IMGs) and involve those who have faced the challenges in developing the course as well as finding ways of promoting equal opportunities for trainees with protected characteristics including less than full time trainees.

The theme was echoed to an extent by Imran Liaquat, a neurosurgeon within NHS Lothian who talked about bias and showed how there were disproportionately few people from BAME backgrounds at senior management level. 

Nevertheless, the meeting saw a great deal of positivity too, and a strong message that harnessing diverse and inclusive innovation to deliver much more integrated care will be the future of the NHS. Achievements and overcoming significant challenges were further celebrated. 

Among those championed by BAPIO, Dr Ananta Dave, Chief Medical Officer, Black Country Integrated Care Board, and immediate Past-President of the British Indian Psychiatrist Association, spoke on the subject of ‘Women as leaders in the NHS’ and was warmly congratulated on reaching such a high level of attainment in psychiatry.

Well-established groups like BAPIO are extremely important – committed to improving care, development, and innovation, as well as “working towards having a more inclusive and diverse society.”  

It was a pleasure to be part of the event and it supports our work at InnoScot Health to encourage innovative thinkers across NHS Scotland – improving the diversity of not just ideas but also the diversity of those staff submitting ideas, whether gender, age, or ethnicity.

The wide range of success stories that we’ve been involved in over the past 20 years has been exciting, but we have also reflected on the diversity of ideas and innovators that come to InnoScot Health and want to diversify that further for the benefit of patients, NHS and our country.

Chair of BAPIO Scotland and Consultant Cardiothoracic Surgeon at NHS Lothian, Mr Vipin Zamvar said: “BAPIO and InnoScot Health hold shared values on improving equality, diversity, and optimising innovation through greater collective encouragement of an inclusive NHS workforce and the ongoing breaking down of barriers. That made their presence at our annual meeting a natural fit and we look forward to engaging and discussing further routes to improvement with InnoScot Health in future.”