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GMC not to blame for greater likelihood of sanctions among UK ethnic minority GPs, says report

The GMC’s fitness-to-practise process does not discriminate against ethnic minorities, an independent report has concluded.

The study by Plymouth University researchers found no evidence of ‘unfairness or inconsistency’ towards characteristics – including age, health and ethnicity – in the GMC’s processes.

The review was commissioned by the GMC after figures – revealed by Pulse – showed black and minority ethnic doctors were twice as likely to face GMC sanctions, compared with white UK medical graduates.

However, the researchers were not able to pinpoint the direct cause for why BME doctors are 30% more likely to be referred for FTP proceedings in the first place.

The Review of decision-making in the General Medical Council’s Fitness to Practise procedures, which looked at the wording and criteria of GMC decision-making guidance, interviewed staff involved in the fitness-to-practise process and reviewed 187 randomly sampled cases, said: ‘No evidence of bias or discriminatory practices was identified, either in the GMC’s guidance and criteria documentation for decision makers, or the sampled case files.

‘Whilst some parts of the guidance and criteria documentation do reference specific doctor characteristics, notably the doctor’s stage of career, their health and their cultural background, these references are either in the context of discussing factors which could genuinely impact upon a doctor’s fitness to practise or on ensuring that doctors are not disadvantaged within the FTP system.’

However, the report was not completely without criticism of the GMC, which it said could provide more clarity on the reasoning behind outcomes in some cases.

It said: ‘The findings also point to a need for greater clarity and transparency. In some instances, though the outcome decision appeared appropriate for the circumstances of the case, the rationale for it was incomplete or unclear.’

GMC chief executive Niall Dickson said: ‘We commissioned this research to make sure our decision-making is fair and consistent and to see what lessons we could learn to improve our procedures. Independent evaluation is essential to ensure that we remain effective and fair.

‘While the findings of this report have been positive, we accept that this will always be a controversial and sensitive area and we know there is more we can do.

He added: ‘We are also continuing our work to understand better the reasons that some groups of doctors are over-represented in our procedures, and especially why some groups of doctors are more likely to be referred by their employers.’

The GMC has been working on an image problem with BME doctors after a 2014 study found that 60% of BME and non-UK qualified doctors were under the impression that the FTP process is unfair to doctors in these groups.

In January, the GMC announced that it was to make the FTP panel more independent from investigative teams in a bid to further improve confidence among doctors.