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Concerns raised over GMC procedures for non-UK doctors

By Laura Passi

Doctors who qualified outside of the UK are more likely to be suspended or erased from the medical register, says a study that raises questions about the GMC fitness to practice process.

The authors of the study - published in the British Medical Journal - found a discrepancy between the rate of serious action by the GMC on UK and non-UK trained doctors and concluded it may be due to GMC processes discriminating against non-UK trained doctors.

The research was led by Professor Charlotte Humphrey and found that at the initial GMC stage 29% of inquiries concerning UK qualified doctors had a high impact decision compared with 43% for EU doctors and 46% for non-EU doctors.

At the next stage they found that 1% of UK qualified doctors were erased or suspended from the medical register compared to 4% of EU doctors and 3% of non-EU doctors.

Professor Humphrey said that although there is no clear reason why overseas doctors do worse in GMC fitness to practise processes. She argues that either ‘real differences exist in fitness to practise between groups of doctors who are referred to the GMC' or ‘that the GMC processes tend to discriminate against certain groups of doctors.'

GMC chief executive Niall Dickson, said they still did not fully understand why doctors from outside the UK are more likely to be suspended or removed from the register.

'We do not believe there is any firm evidence that our procedures unfairly discriminate against doctors from overseas and we are committed to ensuring that our processes are fair to everyone,' he said.'

The report comes after the GMC called for a major crackdown last month on the standards of GP training across Europe. They urged all 27 EU member states to bring in checks on national medical qualifications to prevent migrant foreign doctors working outside their own country, in health systems they may not be familiar with.

Today the NHS Confederation has also called for better checks on migrant health workers. Elisabetta Zanon, director of the NHS Confederation's European Office said: 'There is a tension that needs resolving between the European Commission's aim to simplify and speed up the recognition of professionals and making sure the right checks and balances are in place to protect patients from dangerous care from health professionals.'

British Medical Journal published online 5 April 2011