The British Medical Association (BMA) has called on the General Medical Council (GMC) to urgently commission a comprehensive independent evaluation of its fitness-to-practise decision making procedure.
It follows a judgment by Reading Employment Tribunal in the case of Dr Omer Karim which upheld complaints that he was discriminated against by the GMC on the grounds of race, and the subsequent decision by the GMC to appeal the ruling.
The BMA wants the GMC to openly acknowledge credibility concerns and demonstrate how it will provide the profession with the confidence that it treats all doctors in an even-handed manner.
Dame Clare Marx, Chair of the GMC, said: "We know that many doctors feel discriminated against by the way in which referrals to the GMC are handled, and there remains much for us and others to do to change that.
"But accepting a flawed tribunal judgment will not help achieve the aims we and others share to tackle inequalities where they exist in disciplinary proceedings for healthcare professionals."
Doctors from all backgrounds need to be treated equally and fairly
BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: “The outcome of this landmark case has caused much anger and distress amongst the medical profession around the discriminatory treatment of ethnic minority doctors. A GMC referral can wreck the lives and mental health of doctors, with some tragically taking their own lives as a result.
“It is morally unacceptable for there to be unequal treatment for any sector of the medical profession in disciplinary processes. It is already known that ethnic minority doctors face the disparity of being twice as likely to be referred by their employers to the GMC, and this important case now raises the issue of unfairness within the GMC's disciplinary processes itself.
"Ethnic minority doctors are a vital and invaluable part of our NHS workforce, comprising four in 10 of all doctors - it is unacceptable for them to be working in a system in which they feel that the dice is loaded against them."
The BMA now wants the GMC to independently review its fitness-to-practise decision making procedures, and commit to act quickly on its findings.
GMC will continue its programme of work to address discrimination
Dr Nagpaul added: “Throughout the UK’s health and care system, too many doctors from ethnic minorities continue to experience discrimination and disadvantage, ranging from differential attainment of postgraduate examination, poorer career progression, increased levels of bullying and harassment to an ethnicity pay gap. All parts of the NHS have a responsibility to ensure that doctors from all backgrounds are treated equally and fairly.”
In a statement, the GMC said it will continue its programme of work to address concerns around discrimination and disproportionate referrals of ethnic minority doctors. This includes:
- Sharing with employers and health leaders the findings of independent research into the drivers of disproportionate referral of ethnic minority doctors.
- Taking additional steps to make sure a referral from an employer is appropriate before it is submitted.
- New targets to eliminate disproportionality in fitness to practise referrals and differential attainment in medical education and training.
- Continued focus on assuring the GMC’s own ways of working are free from bias through regular audits of our own fitness to practise processes.