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Is the NHS treating black doctors fairly?

UNFAIR?: The GMC is looking into the treatment of BAME GPs against their white counterparts

THE GENERAL Medical Council (GMC), the body that registers doctors in the UK, has launched an investigation into the high level of complaints against black and minority ethnic (BAME) doctors compared with white doctors.

Concerns have been raised in the medical profession in recent years following statistics which show that BAME GPs are nearly twice as likely to face sanctions, warnings and what are known in the medical profession as fitness to practice referrals, compared with their white counterparts.

According to figures published recently in The Pulse magazine BAME doctors make up 18 per cent of UK-trained consultants and 31 per cent of UK-trained GPs.


But of the nine doctors who have been convicted for gross negligence manslaughter since 2004, seven have been from a BAME background. No white doctor has been convicted for more than a decade.

Also a recent report from the GMC on the progression of doctors in training found that while white UK medical graduates have an average pass rate of 75.8 per cent, this drops to just 63.2 per cent among BAME graduates who are also from the UK.

The GMC’s action follows the high profile case of Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba. Dr Bawa-Garba, was stripped of her medical licence following the death of Jack Adcock, a six-year-old boy with Down’s Syndrome.

The junior paediatrician was convicted of manslaughter by gross negligence and given a two-year suspended sentence for mistakes which led to Jack Adcock’s “needless death” in 2011.

However, the decision sparked anger and strong criticism of the GMC from medical professionals, with many raising concerns that Dr Bawa-Garba’s case failed to look at the exceptional pressures faced by NHS doctors as well as systemic failings.

PICTURED: Dr Bawa-Garba

The GMC said that the investigation will be led by Roger Kline, a Research Fellow at Middlesex University Business School and Dr Doyin Atewologun, a faculty member at Queen Mary University of London’s School of Business and Management and is an expert in work psychology, diversity and leadership.

A GMC spokesperson said that although previous studies have found that the GMC’s processes and disciplinary procedures do not introduce disproportionality in investigations into doctors, there were questions
to be answered about "why certain groups of doctors are referred to the GMC by their employees more often."

And referring to the case of Dr Bawa-Garba, the spokesperson said: “There are a number of issues arising from the case of Dr Bawa-Garba following the death of Jack Adcock that we are keen to better understand. This includes the support BAME doctors receive in the workplace, which this research will help to address.”

Charlie Massey, chief executive of the GMC, said: “Audits have consistently found that our fitness to practise processes and guidance are fair and consistent and do not introduce bias.


“But we do know that there is an overrepresentation of BAME doctors that have been complained about and we want to know more about what is driving this, as well as whether there is an under representation of other doctors.

“That is why we are intensifying our efforts to understand better this issue through more detailed research, analysis and advice.” He continued: "This research will allow us to work more closely with clinical leaders to properly develop supportive and open workplaces, where doctors' interactions with the GMC, and with processes owned by the GMC, are appropriate and fair."

Dr Doyin Atewologun, faculty member at Queen Mary University of London’s School of Business and Management, said: “We hope, in particular, that this project will help identify best practises from the available evidence and lead to positive changes.”

The move has been welcomed by NHS Employers. Danny Mortimer, chief ex- ecutive of NHS Employers, said: “We welcome this work commissioned by the GMC. It’s important we can better understand why there are a disproportionate number of BAME doctors who are subject to fitness to practise referrals.

“While the work will look at what improvements can be made by the regulator, there will be important learning that can be applied by employers as well.”

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