The GMC has said it is ‘likely’ on track to achieve its target of eliminating all disproportionate referrals from employers about ethnic minority doctors and IMGs by 2026.
In its annual report showing progress on tackling inequality, published today, the regulator showed that the differential rate of referrals for ethnic minority doctors and IMGs compared with white doctors had decreased over recent years.
The gap in referral rates in the five years up to 2022 was 0.19 percentage points, where 0.41% of ethnic minority doctors had a referral compared with 0.22% of white doctors.
This marks a decrease from the 0.24 percentage point difference in the 2017 to 2021 period, and the 0.28 point difference for 2016 to 2020.
In 2021, in addition to the target on disproportionate FTP referrals, the GMC also committed to eradicating disadvantage and discrimination in medical education and training by 2031.
Four out of the five indicators it uses to measure equality in education and training have shown a ‘year-on-year narrowing of the gap in attainment between white and ethnic minority doctors’, according to the GMC’ report.
These four indicators include education performance, inclusive environments, postgraduate exams and the postgraduate ARCP.
The exception to this narrowing was the indicator for doctors’ self-reported preparedness for their first foundation year post.
While inequalities in specialty training attainment persist, this latest report shows that the difference in average exam pass rate between white and ethnic minority doctors has decreased from 12.3 percentage points in 2019 to 9.8 in 2021.
And the difference in pass rate between UK-trained doctors and IMGs has gone down over the same period from 29.3 to 25.2 percentage points.
The GMC also tracked its progress on equality as an employer and said that it is on track to have 20% of its staff from ethnic minority background by 2026, but is not currently meeting the target for proportion of these employees in management roles.
In response to the report, the BMA’s representative body chair and equality lead Dr Latifa Patel said the evidence of progress is ‘encouraging’ but the union’s members ‘hold deep concerns about discrimination and racial bias within the GMC’s own processes’.
She said: ‘The BMA and our doctors will no longer tolerate discrimination and bias and while it’s good to have GMC targets what’s needed is wholesale cultural transformation in our NHS, where there is a commitment to equal opportunity and enabling each doctor to progress and achieve their full potential.’
Head of medical at GP indemnity organisation MDDUS Dr Naeem Nazem also argued that ‘there is much more to be done’.
He said: ‘[The GMC’s] work to address the disproportionate number of doctors from minority ethnic backgrounds who face disciplinary hearings is a start, but while these doctors remain more vulnerable to complaints than others this remains a serious concern for us.’
Today’s report said: ‘We are working towards eliminating differentials in employer referrals by the end of 2026, but we recognise that there may be factors or developments that emerge during this period which might impact on our ability to eliminate differentials altogether.’
It added that these indicators, on the difference in referral rates between either ethnic minority or IMG doctors and white doctors, ‘are expected to move towards our targets and are likely to be near them by the end of 2026’.
Mr Massey said system leaders ‘must not yield to pressures to de-prioritise’ equality, diversity and inclusion initiatives, as there is a ‘clear business case for them’, including benefit to patients.
He said: ‘This report shows change can happen and progress is being made, but there is no room for complacency, by us or by others. Eradicating these issues, for the benefit of medical professionals and patients, means accelerating the pace of change.
‘We will continue to work with others to drive the change that doctors deserve, and we expect our partners across healthcare to do the same. Every doctor from every background deserves to work in an environment where they can achieve their full potential.’
In response to the ‘laptop’ fitness to practise case last year, leaders from across general practice demanded that the GMC take action on the ‘incomprehensible’ decision.
The BMA raised concerns that it would worsen doctors’ fears of the regulator taking a ‘disproportionate and unfair approach’.