An influential international doctors group has accused the GMC of treating black and minority ethnic doctors ‘differently and harshly’, following a controversial High Court case last week.
The British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin said that the ‘pursuit’ of Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba ‘reflects the inherent bias that exists within the GMC’.
It calls on the GMC to make clear what monitoring is in place regarding differential treatment of BME doctors, and how many times the GMC has questioned fitness-to-practise verdicts against non-BME doctors.
The GMC appealed against its own tribunal service, which said that Dr Bawa-Garba should be reinstated on the performers’ list after she had completed a two-year suspended sentence for gross negligence manslaughter.
Dr Bawa-Garba was a registrar at the Children’s Assessment Unit at Leicester Royal Infirmary on 18 February 2011, and the most senior doctor on the shift, when a six-year-old child with sepsis died. Dr Bawa-Garba continued to work at the hospital trust up until she was convicted of manslaughter by a Crown Court Jury in November 2015.
The MPTS said in a June 2017 hearing however, that erasing Dr Bawa-Garba from the GMC register would be ‘disproportionate’, that her actions were neither ‘deliberate or reckless’ and that she did not ’pose a continuing risk to patients.’
However, last week, the GMC was successful in its appeal to the High Court to strike Dr Bawa-Garba from the register.
But in the letter dated 12 January – before the High Court ruling – BAPIO accuses the GMC of ‘inherent bias’.
It says: ‘Given the published data that BME doctors are three to five times more likely to get GMC public warnings and restrictions compared to white doctors, we find it hard not to come to the conclusion that Dr Bawa-Garba’s pursuit by the GMC reflects the inherent bias that exists within the GMC which treats BME doctors differently and harshly.’
Charlie Massey, chief executive of the GMC, said: ‘We take our responsibility to be a fair and transparent regulator very seriously. As the host of the BME Forum we have been working constructively with members, including BAPIO, for a number of years and we do our utmost to ensure that all our processes are even-handed and just, listening and acting on feedback to make improvements to our processes.
‘We are leading the way in trying to better understand the background and reasons behind a number of issues, including how different groups of doctors are affected by our processes. We know that BME doctors are more likely to be referred to us, and we have done a lot of work to understand the reasons behind this and what can be done to ensure the health system is supportive of BME doctors. Our Employer Liaison Service works closely with Responsible Officers to ensure that referrals are appropriate.
‘Analysis of our processes does not indicate that they are disproportionate. A number of independent audits on random samples of our decisions found our decision-making to be consistent and in line with our published guidance. Research has indicated that it is the nature and seriousness of allegations that is the primary driver of the outcome of a referral or investigation, rather than ethnicity.’
Meanwhile, following the High Court ruling, support rallied behind Dr Bawa-Garba, with general practice campaign group GP survival writing an open letter to the BMA calling for ‘action against the over-regulated and litigious culture’ of the NHS as well as calling for an investigation into the GMC ‘to examine if it is fit for purpose’.
Over £200,000 has been raised through crowd funding to cover legal fees associated with challenging the decision of the High Court.
The crowd funding campaign, which was launched after the ruling on Thursday, has raised £204,020 through donations from 6,727 people.
In a comment on the site, Dr Bawa-Garba said she was ‘overwhelmed with gratitude’ and shares ‘all of your concerns about the implications of this case’.