Statement on the Edinburgh Slavery and Colonialism Legacy Review group report

The Edinburgh Slavery and Colonialism Legacy Review group, led by Professor Sir Geoff Palmer, has published its findings and recommendations in a report

The College thanks Sir Geoff for leading this important work on slavery and colonialism, and for engaging with us directly about how we could most effectively contribute to the Legacy Review Group. We recognise that some of our past Members owned enslaved people, which is deeply regrettable.

The College supports and educates doctors in the hospital sector throughout the UK and around the world with over 14,000 Fellows and Members in over 100 countries, covering 54 medical specialties and interests. As an international organisation, around 50% of our Fellows and Members live and work outside the UK. In the UK, 36% of our Members and 27% of our Fellows are from minority ethnic backgrounds. In terms of leadership and senior positions within the College, 31% of our elected members of Council (board) and 53% of our elected Regional Advisers in the UK are from minority ethnic backgrounds.

In October 2020, the College established a diversity and history group and in December 2021 we produced a report, Slavery Connections (full report is in the further information section below), which was submitted to the Legacy Review Group in response to their call for views. This is a significant report, which demonstrates the College’s commitment to transparency and a culture of openness regarding all aspects of our history, and the historical links of some individuals connected with the College to slavery.

In addition to this work, the College’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity Group helps to build an inclusive community within our organisation, valuing diversity, enabling equality of opportunity and emphasising dignity and respect. The College also facilitates partnerships to support training and education internationally and to enable delivery of high-quality, sustainable healthcare locally in several lower-income countries, including Malawi and Zambia.

Closer to home, the College has continually called on the Scottish Government to expand Widening Access to Medicine - a programme which helps students from diverse backgrounds to study medicine. As a result of lobbying by the College, this was included as a pledge in the SNP manifesto ahead of the May 2021 Scottish Parliament election.

Professor Angela Thomas OBE, Director of Heritage, commented:

In Spring 2022, College Council agreed to build on the momentum generated by Slavery Connections, and to take positive and proactive steps to address the themes raised,  ensuring that as an organisation the College does not perpetuate racial discrimination or any inequality.

It is not enough to simply identify what was wrong in the past. To this end, we have formed a Working Group, with a requirement that members of the group should bring an informed perspective, lived-experience or specific expertise.

The Working Group is closely aligned with our established Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity Group and it will put forward a coherent plan and specific actions in the coming months, which could be embedded within the College ethos, future strategy and business plans as appropriate.

Professor Andrew Elder, President, said:

Slavery is barbaric and abhorrent. Colonialism exploited and subjugated millions of people. Both are based on prejudice and discrimination, which this College condemns in all their forms and which have no place in any society past, present or future.

Our College’s earlier review of links to slavery and colonialism - which we made available to Sir Geoff’s team – indicated that one former President of the College owned a plantation in Jamaica and thus profited from the slave trade. No portrait nor other form of memorial to him exists in the College.

We found no evidence of any College endorsement of slavery, nor any institutional profit from it through benefactors or otherwise. Scotland exported many doctors around the world in the period in question, but we have no knowledge of how many were involved in any way in the slave trade.

Our College is an institution dedicated to the highest standards of patient care in the UK and around the world. Based in Edinburgh, we represent a diverse and growing professional group, with more than half of our Fellows and Members living and working outside the UK – indeed our first Fellow from outside the UK affiliated with us in the late 1800s.

We welcome Sir Geoff and his team’s report and acknowledge its findings. We will use it to illuminate and educate. We cannot change the past, but we can influence and change thinking, attitudes and actions in the future. We remain committed to the promotion of justice, equality, diversity and inclusivity in all that we do.

Further information: