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GMC to hold listening events after concern over treatment of ethnic minority and international doctors

Exclusive: The GMC is to hold a series of listening events with overseas doctors and those from minority ethnic groups after concern was raised over the outcome of several fitness to practise panels.

The regulator said it would run focus groups among overseas and BME doctors in December and January to gauge their perception of the GMC.

The move comes after the British International Doctors Association (BIDA) discussed 13 specific cases with the regulator amid concerns that the ethnicity of BME doctors was determining the outcome of fitness to practise panels.

The GMC said that it did not find any evidence of unfavourable treatment on the grounds of ethnicity, but that it was keen to‘understand the experiences’ of overseas and BME doctors.

The first focus group, which the GMC has commissioned to independent agency NatCen, was due to take place on 4 December in Manchester, followed by six more across the UK.

The move is a bid to counter concerns over the way it deals with performance concerns regarding international doctors.

The GMC’s research proposal for the focus groups, obtained by Pulse, said: ‘Anecdotal feedback suggests that other core functions of the GMC are also perceived as conveying some degree of discrimination. For example, in some quarters, there is the belief that some doctors face a more expedient, simpler, registration process than others.

‘Given the challenges referred to above, we are committed to improving the perceptions of our work amongst these protected groups. Whilst we know that the GMC is perceived negatively in some quarters, we do not know how widely held such views are. This study will therefore address this evidence gap through establishing a robust baseline for current perceptions of the GMC amongst BME doctors.’

Dr Umesh Prabhu, vice-president of BIDA and a consultant paediatrician, said it had been raising the issue with the GMC for the past three years, but recently had discussed 18 cases it had identified with the regulator.

He said: ‘We have been telling them our concerns about the way doctors are regulated in this country and I have given them details of some cases where even the GMC’s own decision has shocked me.

‘We gave them 13 cases where we could not find anything other than ethnicity which determined the outcome.’

He said that in the meeting the GMC had ‘acknowledged their internal processes can be improved’ and that they were ‘delighted’ with the steps the regulator was taking to resolve the issue.

GMC chair Niall Dickson said they had reviewed the 18 cases and did not find any evidence of unfavourable treatment, but that they wanted to analyse the issues more closely.

He said: ‘It is always difficult to second guess decisions that have been made following a hearing, but we could not find any evidence of adverse and/or favourable treatment on the grounds of ethnicity or race in the decisions reached in these cases.

‘This is an extremely complex issue and there is much we still do not know. We do receive a higher number of complaints about BME doctors from the NHS, the police and employers generally. We are undertaking further analysis and research, including surveys and focus groups with doctors including overseas and BME doctors to understand their experiences.’

Figures seen by Pulse reveal that the GMC has made a concerted effort this year to revamp the representation of minority ethnic groups, women and younger doctors on its fitness to practise panels.

Around 42% of the 57 new appointees to fitness to practice panels this year have been from black and minority ethnic (BME) groups. At the start of 2012, 16% of fitness to practise panel members were BME.

A spokesperson from the GMC said it was working with ‘representative organisations from across the medical profession, including BME organisations, to ensure we reached the widest possible range of doctors’.

Its most recent advertisement said it would ‘welcome applications from people with a range of backgrounds, including members of black and minority ethnic (BME) communities, women, people under the age of 45 and people with disabilities’.

The GMC set up its BME Diversity Committee three years ago, which has been meeting regularly and includes representatives from British Association Of Physicians Of Indian Origin and the British International Doctors Association among others.

Dr Kailash Chand, deputy chair of BMA Council, said: ‘For the last 20 years, I have been discussing this issue with many organisations. We know and the GMC itself knows that there is a certain perception among IMGs and BMEs, whether it is culture or education, they are definitely at a disadvantage right from the complaint ending up with the GMC.

‘I am not complaining about the GMC. We don’t know if this is a reality or perception but the issue is definitely important.’

Dr Brian Keighley, a GP in Glasgow and the chairman of the BMA’s GMC Working Party, said: ‘I know the GMC has made strenuous efforts to make their processes as fair as they can, but there is still a perception among that group of doctors that there is unfairness.

‘The problem is isolating where that unfairness is. Anything they do to further explore that issue is welcomed.’



Story updated 17 December 11:40 - following clarification from the GMC and BIDA, the number of cases presented to the GMC was 13 and not 18 as originally claimed