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Royal College of Surgeons of England will put diversity at the heart of its strategy 

18 Mar 2021

The Royal College of Surgeons of England (RCS England) has said it will put diversity at the heart of its strategy following an independent review of diversity in the College’s professional leadership conducted by Baroness Helena Kennedy QC. The review report, which sets out a sixteen-point plan for improving diversity within surgery and RCS England, is published today (18 March 2021).  

While highlighting some of the College’s strengths in fostering a diverse surgical community, including the Women in Surgery Network (WinS) and the Lady Estelle Wolfson Emerging Leaders Fellowship, the report also includes difficult-to-read personal accounts of the discrimination and unacceptable behaviour surgeons face in their day-to-day practice and interactions with the College. 

The report’s sixteen-point plan, includes detailed recommendations, with suggested timescales, which will ensure RCS England becomes a truly diverse organisation that can lead by example and champion equality and inclusion within the NHS and the wider surgical community. Baroness Helena Kennedy QC has tasked the College with developing an action plan, to be completed within three months, for how these recommendations will be achieved. 

The RCS England has today made a commitment to the review’s reform target which states that within two Presidential terms the Leadership and Council of the College will reflect the diversity of the wider medical workforce. That means within five to six years from now. The College will also work to develop a clear strategy for SAS surgeons, a group that is often described as the ‘lost tribe of surgery’.  

Professor Neil Mortensen, President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, commissioned the review as one of his first acts of business upon becoming President in July 2020. Of the review report, he said:

“I want to thank Baroness Helena for her sterling work in directing the review. Along with her team and the expert panel that supported the review, she has produced a hard-hitting and immeasurably important report that will undoubtedly change the face of the College in a positive way for decades to come. 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. 

“We commissioned this review because we firmly believe the College has a responsibility to call out prejudice in surgery, wherever it exists. Whatever someone’s background, gender, race, we are all equals in the operating theatres. The surgical community is fantastically diverse, and we wanted to hear the experiences of our colleagues, however painful some of their testimonies. Having mutual respect and understanding is critical to being able to work well as one unified team. Supporting each other is therefore key to delivering excellent patient care, because every operation takes a team effort. 

“However hard we try to understand the experiences and perspectives of people different to ourselves, this is no substitute for listening first-hand to their experience. First, we need to listen, so that we can stand beside our colleagues and support them. It has been painful to read the testimonies of the prejudice experienced by some of our colleagues, in the course of their day-to-day work. Medical students choose surgery as a profession knowing they will have to study and work incredibly hard, often under great pressure. No one should expect on top of those demands, to be subject to demeaning or hurtful behaviour at work. Indeed, this College developed unconscious bias guidance and e-learning to combat this risk.”  

Commenting on her role in 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.”  

RCS England is also announcing today that it will invest in a ‘Parents in Surgery’ study and strategy, as a flagship programme. It is hoped it will be a positive step in bringing gender equality in the profession. Professor Mortensen said:  

“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 are committing funding to take 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. If we do not support young surgeons as they start their families, they will leave our profession for specialties with a more supportive working culture. 

“As leaders of the surgical profession, we have an essential role to play in mentoring the next generation to excel in the operating theatre, but we also have a pastoral duty to understand and support their wellbeing.”  

Notes to editors

  1. The full report is available on request and will be online at the following link once the embargo lifts:  

  2. Baroness Helena Kennedy QC was asked to carry out an independent review of diversity in the College’s professional leadership in July 2020, as the first of four commitments the College has made to challenge racism and champion diversity. See further information here:  

  3. Baroness Kennedy conducted the review with the support of an expert panel chosen for their diversity and breadth and depth of experience. The panel met seven times and heard from 22 witnesses. In addition, the review team conducted focus groups and interviews involving a further 75 (approximate) surgeons and medical students, studied an assessment by the RCS England library of the existing evidence base related to diversity, inclusion, surgical careers and patient outcomes, and conducted a survey of RCS England members’ thoughts on the issues, which received over 1,400 responses.  

  4. Baroness Helena Kennedy QC has spent her professional life giving voice to those who have least power within the system, championing civil liberties and promoting human rights. A Senior Executive of the International Bar Association, she has been instrumental in effecting changes in diversity law, advancing gender equality and leading high profile inquiries such as The Kennedy Report, which brought about real change in investigations of infant death, improvements in multidisciplinary approaches and coroners’ practice. Further biographical details:  

  5. Who are SAS surgeons? More information here:  

  6. The Royal College of Surgeons of England is a professional membership organisation and registered charity, which exists to advance patient care. We support over 28,000 members in the UK and internationally by improving their skills and knowledge, facilitating research and developing policy and guidance.  

  7. For more information, please contact the RCS Press Office:

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