Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

The case of Dr Mark Ponnampalam

As a side show reflecting the vigorous undercurrents of the anti-racist campaign going on within the National Health Service, the case of Dr Mark Ponnampalam is quite interesting. Mark Ponnampalam MBBS (London) FRCS (Eng) FRCS (Edin) FRCS (Can), FICS is a black doctor who worked in the National Health Service for 10 years after his qualification as surgeon at St Bartholomew Hospital in 1960.

His experience of racist attitudes within the Health Service is typical of what many other black health workers at all levels have encountered in their working lives. After building up a lot of experience together with the appropriate qualifications which should have enabled him to work as a hospital surgeon, he has instead spent 10 years unable to obtain anything other than temporary employment.

The Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) and the Policy Studies Institute (PSI) studies have backed up the above as a disturbing trait in the NHS. They reveal that black doctors are "channelled" into Cinderella areas of British medical practice i.e. mental health and geriatrics. Since the old and mentally ill are the least able of society to defend their interests, consequently investment in their welfare is small in comparison with other areas of the NHS.

Ambitious white doctors, therefore, do not wish to commit themselves to a career in such undervalued work. In consequence, we have a situation where "the powerless are looked after by the disadvantaged and the exploited in the least support areas of the National Health Service".

So what has Dr Ponnampalam done about it? Supported by Hackney and Newham Associations, Association of Scientific, Technical and Managerial Staff and Medical Practitioner's Union, he has taken the issue of NHS racism into the international arena and has made submissions to various EEC and supranational bodies. He said that the European Commission for Human Rights sat on the case on January 4, this year and passed it for further consideration thereby overcoming the first hurdle that may eventually lead to a positive decision with wider repercussions for all black Health Workers within the NHS.

Dr Mark Ponnampalam

See also Black Health Workers Meet On Racism

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