Inequalities experienced by medical trainees from different ethnic backgrounds have been laid bare by a report from the General Medical Council (GMC).
In particular black doctors are more likely to fail specialty exams than any other ethic group, data from medical royal colleges and postgraduate training bodies collated by the GMC shows.
UK medical graduates of black or black British heritage have lower pass rates in specialty exams (62%) than UK white (79%), Asian (68%) and mixed heritage trainees (74%), figures suggest.
It is the first time the regulator has split the data by ethnicity in a more detailed way after setting a target in 2021 to eliminate discrimination, disadvantage and unfairness in medical education over the next decade.
Other factors such as socio-economic status compound the poorer outcomes seen in some groups, the GMC report said, with UK black trainees from areas with a higher level of deprivation having a 59% pass rate compared to 76% for UK white trainees from an equivalent socio-economic background.
The figures also show that double the number of UK black or black trainee doctors (5.3%) have had their training programme extended than white medics (2.6%).
In addition, UK black doctors are less likely to receive an offer when applying to specialty training at 75% compared with 82% for white trainees, the GMC said.
Race is not the only factor that can disadvantage medical training, the GMC said, with UK Asian Muslim trainees having lower exam pass rates compared to those from a Hindu or Sikh faith and those who do not follow a religion at all.
And specialty exam pass rates are lower for disabled trainees. The figures also show overseas graduates are much less likely to declare a disability than UK graduates.
There is no evidence that the attainment gap between doctors of different ethnicities is significantly narrowing over time, the GMC concluded.
Last year the regulator launched a new hub to provide assistance to doctors who experience racism and discrimination at work.
The same month, the GMC admitted that a controversial case in which a GP was accused of dishonesty after saying she had been ‘promised’ a laptop ‘damaged’ efforts to build trust with doctors from minority ethnic backgrounds.
Professor Colin Melville, GMC medical director and director of education and standards, said: ‘These new data underline the detriment and lived experience of ethnic minority doctors.
‘At all stages of a doctor’s career, disadvantage and discrimination continues to undermine opportunities for development and progression. And this can have a negative impact on patient care.
‘All of us have a role to play in tackling this vital issue. We want to scale up initiatives that work in eliminating the barriers that social background creates and we want to use our position to build up an evidence base on what drives best practice.’
Dr Sai Pillarisetti, BIDA junior doctor chair, said: ‘The report confirms what we have long known to be true – that trainees of Black and Asian heritage have significantly lower rates of passing specialty exams and that this disparity extends far beyond exams and also impacts progression, with these groups more likely to experience extension to their training time and lower success rates when applying for specialty training posts.
‘It is imperative for the relevant bodies to take notice of this report and take meaningful action to make these exams more equitable to those from all backgrounds.’
He added this should include involving those from minority ethnic backgrounds in question creation and design, having proportional representation on examination boards and
unconscious bias training for examiners.
Dr Naureen Bhatti, a GP in London and HEE London primary care lead for workforce race strategy, said the more detailed breakdown of ethnicity and other factors in training was long overdue.
The findings were not surprising she added but it was ‘incredibly sad and shocking to see nothing has improved’.
Additional funding that has been made available to support international medical graduate trainees has been very welcome but it still focuses on the individual rather than addressing structural issues such as racism in the NHS and biased recruitment processes, she added.
‘We have been working on a race equality strategy for primary care where we are trying to highlight the bigger picture. This has given us the information but it’s what we do with it,’ she said.