A doctors’ union is supporting a former GP who was dismissed from his training programme after being diagnosed with dyslexia.
The Doctors’ Association UK (DAUK) has called for a ‘formal enquiry’ into the case, arguing that Dr Priyank Vashishtha was ‘robbed of his career’ due to the diagnosis.
Dr Vashishtha is also crowdfunding to cover his legal fees in a dispute with Health Education England (HEE) over its handling of his condition.
Former GP trainee Dr Vashishtha said he has been ‘fighting a lengthy legal battle with NHS lawyers who have been paid hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money to crush’ him.
Dr Vashishtha was ‘dismissed’ from his GP training programme in 2018 when his performance was ‘judged to be unsatisfactory’ by HEE, DAUK said.
But it added that although two independent assessors found that he needed certain ‘reasonable adjustments’ following his dyslexia, dyscalculia and dyspraxia diagnosis, none were upheld in the workplace or his examinations during GP training.
After passing the clinical skills assessment (CSA), Dr Vashishtha ‘struggled to pass the computer-based Applied Knowledge Test (AKT) in the absence of any modifications for his condition’, DAUK said.
However, he was ‘denied a final attempt to pass this exam and dismissed from training’ and then his right to appeal the decision was ‘also denied’ without input from an ‘independent panel’, it added.
DAUK said it was ‘shocked’ to hear of Dr Vashishtha’s treatment and that HEE has ‘[failed the] neurodiverse GP trainee by refusing to provide reasonable adjustments’.
It added: ‘Dr Vashishtha has been robbed of his career as a GP, despite receiving excellent patient feedback.
‘DAUK has become concerned about the increasing number of doctors with disabilities that have not been granted their reasonable adjustments at work or during their post-graduate exams.’
It urged HEE and the Royal Colleges to ‘ensure their members receive the support they are entitled to’, such as dictation software, longer consultations and additional time during exams, as well as ‘neurodiversity training’ for trainers.
DAUK equality, diversity and inclusion lead Dr Yasotha Browne said: ‘I fully support a formal enquiry into Dr Vashishtha’s case.
‘It appears he was not believed, perhaps assumed to be lazy or not bright enough and given a hard time for this despite expert assessments. This has highlighted a possible normalised culture of disinterest if not disdain towards neurodiverse doctors and we will be looking to hear from others of their experiences within GP education and the NHS.’
DAUK GP committee lead and lead clinician at NHS Practitioner Health Dr Elizabeth Croton added that Dr Vashishtha’s case ‘doesn’t make sense’ with general practice ‘so desperately short of GPs’.
An HEE spokesperson said: ‘Dr Vashishtha is pursuing claims in the employment tribunal against HEE and in the context of ongoing litigation we do not believe it is appropriate to comment any further.’
Pulse has also approached the RCGP for comment.
A 2019 study found that doctors with dyslexia are less likely to pass the MRCGP clinical skills assessment (CSA) exam than those who do not have the condition, despite reasonable adjustments being made.
A similar study conducted on the performance of the applied knowledge test (AKT) found that doctors with dyslexia were no less likely to pass the AKT, but doctors with dyslexia have stressed that the condition affects people in different ways.
What is the basis for Dr Vashishtha’s legal battle against HEE?
Dr Vashishtha qualified in India and has worked in the NHS for ‘close to two decades’, achieving four postgraduate qualifications including diplomas in head and neck surgery and clinical education.
He worked as a trainee surgeon and obtained membership of the Royal College of Surgeons but changed specialty to general practice in 2013 ‘in order to achieve better work-life balance’ and ‘spend more time’ with his toddler son.
He was formally diagnosed with dyslexia, dyspraxia and dyscalculia after completing the first two years of GP training, but recommendations from occupational health doctors for adjustments were ‘consistently ignored by HEE’.
Dr Vashishtha said he ‘struggled with’ the AKT ‘in the absence of adjustments as the format of this was particularly difficult for those with neurodiversity’ and was denied his final attempt to pass the exam.
He added that in October 2018, his ‘performance was assessed as unsatisfactory by HEE’ and he was ‘released’ from his GP position, with the appeal process that followed ‘grossly unfair’.
His hearing was postponed multiple times and his right to appeal ultimately ‘removed’, despite having no access to reasonable adjustments or an independent panel, against postgraduate medical training guidance, he said.
Dr Vashishtha said that when he raised concerns about a ‘lack of support’, the then GP Dean ‘led a relentless campaign’ against him and attributed his difficulties to being an international medical graduate (IMG).
He said: ‘It is a well-known fact that inherent bias against IMGs leads to differential treatment and discrimination. In my case, this bias and stereotyping persisted even after a long unblemished career in the NHS.’
He added that ‘exceptional patient feedback’ received about him while working in GP practices was ‘ignored by the HEE team’.
Dr Vashishtha said HEE has tried to ‘shift blame to the RCGP’ but that he has ‘clear evidence that RCGP would have supported me, had I been allowed to continue my training position by HEE’.
The RCGP said it would have provided adjustments for the AKT if HEE had provided them in the workplace and that it would have granted an additional attempt to pass the exam had he still been in training, he said.
After he brought proceedings against HEE and one of the GP practices for disability discrimination, HEE instructed two large law firms with a senior barrister as well as a QC against him who have been ‘outright unethical’, he added.
During the hearings, they ‘have employed a campaign of “dirty tricks” often taking advantage’ of his disability, such as sending documents at the last minute giving him little time to absorb them, he added.
And HEE’s lawyers said he was ‘not safe to practice’ despite no patient safety concerns raised with the GMC and no patient complaints made against him, he said.
Dr Vashishtha added: ‘The hard-won careers of doctors are being jeopardised by HEE, a publicly funded body that was set up to do the very opposite.
‘I know I am not the only one who has suffered in this way. The GMC’s website has several anonymised stories about other disabled doctors [and] some are shockingly similar to mine.’
27 June 2022
27 September 2019
27 September 2019