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Analysis: GMC is dealing with its image problem

Rightly or wrongly, the perception of the GMC among international medical graduates is poor. There is an obvious reason for this perception – overseas, black and minority ethnic (BME) doctors are well over-represented in front of fitness to practise panels and as subjects of complaints. Up-to-date figures are not currently available, but figures from four years ago showed 60% of FTP hearings featured BME doctors.

The GMC has pointed out that they do not make the complaints themselves, only respond to them; and it is a sad fact that the number of complaints against all BME professionals, and not just doctors, is significantly higher than against their white colleagues.

However, the GMC did have a problem – at the start of this year, only 16% of members of its fitness to practise panels classed themselves as black or from minority ethnic groups. This compares with the 28% of doctors who are BME.

This was an issue that had to be addressed. The GMC was eager not to give the impression it was involved in positive discrimination –favouring BME doctors ahead of white doctors - when appointing panel members.

So it stepped up its engagement with international doctor groups. Its BME Diversity Committee has been commended by representatives of the various groups.

Through this, it called on the international doctor groups to advertise opportunities to sit on fitness to practise panels. By increasing the number of BME applicants, it has been able to increase the percentage of BME panellists without actively favouring candidates based on race. It might be a coincidence, but 42% of people appointed to the FTP panel were BME; and the percentage of BME applicants to the panel was… 42.

It has also set up a series of focus groups, currently ongoing, to understand why BME doctors have a poor perception. Its chief executive, Niall Dickson, appeared before the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin conference last month.

This attempt to understand perceptions is to be welcomed. There are very real concerns from IMGs and BME doctors in many areas – such as the high failure rate of the MRCGP exam by these groups - and the GMC’s approach could represent a template on how to rebuild relations.

Jaimie Kaffash is a senior journalist at Pulse