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RCGP Council members banned from debating college’s response to exam racism row

Exclusive RCGP Council members have been banned from discussing at council the college’s response to the MRCGP controversy and how best to handle the ongoing legal action against the college, Pulse can reveal.

The college said it has told elected council members they cannot discuss the matter at their next meeting in February, on the basis of advice from lawyers handling the judicial review into the MRCGP exam, which is due to be heard in the High Court in April.

But one council member warned that issuing the instruction ‘doesn’t look good’ for the college and could potentially ‘alienate’ GPs who are members.

The RCGP has been embroiled in a major row for the past year over alleged racial bias in the clinical skills examination component of the MRCGP exam. The college has consistently denied that the exam is in any way discriminatory or biased, but it is facing legal action brought by the British Association for Physicians of Indian Origin over the much higher failure rates for the CSA among international and UK ethnic minority graduates, compared with white UK-trained graduates.

The BAPIO-led legal challenge, which is seeking to argue that the MRCGP is ‘unlawful’, is now being directly funded by the BMA, in a move which potentially splits the profession. A judicial review hearing is due in the High Court from 8 to 10 April.

The RCGP Council is made up of 67 elected representatives and has overall responsibility for setting the college’s strategy and making key decisions about its policy. But asked if the CSA issue would be debated at the next council meeting, an RCGP spokesperson said council members had been advised they could not discuss it.

The RCGP said in a statement: ‘College Council is an open and democratic forum in which council members can freely discuss issues and ask questions. It is only in the rarest of circumstances that matters cannot be discussed and, regretfully, because of a legal action still pending on the CSA, we have to handle the issue as advised by our lawyers and trustee board. This advice is being regularly updated and council members informed of new developments as appropriate.’ 

‘There was a detailed update paper for November Council on the history of College research and monitoring of differential performance. Council members can raise motions on any issue as long as they adhere to the motion submission process.’

But one council member told Pulse it was wrong for the council to be prevented from discussing the crisis openly and warned the decision risked ‘alienating’ both elected council members and rank-and-file GPs.

Dr Una Coales, a GP who recently returned to council as an elected representive for south London, said: ‘It just doesn’t look good for the college if elected council members are “not allowed” to discuss or raise concerns with the way the college is handling the CSA GP licensing exam controversy.’

‘To inform us on council that it is a matter left in the hands of college lawyers would seem to alienate not only elected council members but also college members who ask to debate, seek answers and mutual solutions.’

Dr Margaret McCartney, elected Council member from West Scotland, said RCGP Council should be allowed to discuss the CSA response, at least in private.

Pulse also approached other elected council members, but they were not prepared to issue any comment on the RCGP’s decision not to allow discussion at council.

Dr Chandra Kanneganti, chair of the British International Doctors Association and an observer on RCGP Council said: ‘Some discussion could have been helpful among [council] members – but given the legal situation that’s all we can say.’