Black leaders on RPS boards have shared the challenges that they have faced as black pharmacists, arguing that visibility and representation is integral to delivering quality in the future.

At an online panel hosted by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society yesterday for Black History Month, speakers from across the UK argued that diversity at all levels of the pharmacy sector was important not only for the profession, but for patients and the communities that pharmacies represent.

Tase Oputu, an English Pharmacy Board and RPS Assembly member and lead pharmacist for Medicines Commissioning and Pathways at Barts Health NHS Trust, described visibility and representation as a ‘no-brainer’, highlighting its importance in addressing health inequalities and delivering better outcomes for patients.

Ms Oputu said: ‘We are not just a minority, we are an integral part of society, and that means that we should also be an integral part of every single layer and strata there is of whatever you are part of: so your organisation, your geographical area that you live in.

‘We have a wealth of patients who are incredibly diverse,’ she added.

‘We need people to either be representative and seen or for people to have cultural intelligence, the ability to understand some of the aspects that we all experience in different ways to support healthcare, and address inequalities within healthcare.’

Lola Dabiri, a RPS Scotland Board member and a community superintendent pharmacist, independent prescriber and pharmacist advisor with NHS 24, argued that having diverse representation allowed people to imagine the future differently.

She said: ‘If you don't see someone that looks like yourself up there. Unconsciously the mind is just going to say: you can’t do that, because there’s nobody that looks like you that is there already.

‘So that is what it is for me, for us to have a future that will be diverse, a future that will have the benefit of different perspectives, a future that will be able to utilise the different perspectives from different cultures and from different value systems and put all of that in the mix to have a society that is successful.’

She said that it was important to continue to fight for representation, ‘otherwise, the future is going to be very boring’ and ‘will not deliver for the society in itself.’

Each of the panellists said that they had experienced both direct and indirect racism during their pharmacy careers.

Bayo Adegbite, community pharmacist and member of the RPS England board, shared one instance of working a locum shift in an area with few other black pharmacists when, despite having worked hard all day, other staff had told him that they would never have him back again.

‘I just couldn't figure out why’, said Mr Adegbite, adding that ‘the penny dropped’ when a friend suggested that it might have been due to his race.

‘Little things like that just kind of like shape your experiences in life, where you always remember that whatever you do, you just have to keep on at it and be the very best you can,’ he said.

Mr Adegbite said that representation for other and future pharmacists was part of the reason that he decided to stand for the RPS board a second time, despite not succeeding initially – and was successful in joining the English Pharmacy Board in May 2022.

‘I just felt I didn't want to let anyone down, to be honest, even let myself down or whoever would represent in the future,’ he explained.

‘You just [have to] keep on going till there's nowhere left, because if I didn't try a second time, we probably still won't have a black male member of the board. So, you know, we just have to keep on going,’ he added.

‘The beauty of what I see today, which I think we've achieved, which shouldn't be underestimated is any black pharmacist, pre-reg, trainee, pharmacy student, even people in secondary schools or primary school who are thinking of becoming a pharmacist – if they look at the RPS board, they'll be like, well, there's a black man there. I can do this. There's a black woman there, I can do this.’

He added that he himself was inspired by reading an article by Elsy Gomez, founder and president of the UK Black Pharmacist Association (UKBPA). ‘I was so impressed that someone could actually come out and put themselves out there at the risk of everything just to explain their story,’ he said.

This comes after GPhC data from May 2022 revealed that of the 61,140 pharmacists on the register, 7.3% are black, while 40.2% are white, 39.4% are Asian and 1.4% are mixed race.