LMCs have voted for GP details to be anonymised when part of the performance regulatory processes dealing with patient complaints – a move that could pose ‘significant challenges’, the BMA has said.
LMC members at the UK LMCs conference in Belfast overwhelmingly voted for GP subject to patient complaints to have their name anonymised in a bid to reduce bias in the system.
Proposing the motion, Kent LMC chair Dr Gaurav Gupta said the way the current system handles patients complaints is ‘not fair’ as it tends to focus on the gender, ethnicity or age of the doctor rather than the issue.
Dr Gupta previously suggested anonymising fitness-to-practice would ’reduce any bias’ in the regulatory system. In response, the GMC told Pulse that researchers leading its ongoing review of employer referrals to the GMC will be made aware of the points raised, ‘so they may be considered as part of their review’.
Speaking at the conference this week, Dr Gupta said: ’Ethnic minority doctors are more likely to be reported into the regulatory process, more likely to be found guilty and more likely to be penalised yet very little has been done about this.
’Doctors should be allowed to be human, we have flows and we’ll make mistakes. We should be supported where genuine mistakes are made and where systems have failed. We all deserve to be treated fairly, compassionately and humanly because doctors are humans too.’
He added: ‘The difficulty is that the system isn’t transparent, it isn’t fair. You can have a life changing decision made by one person in the NHS in the process of performance. So if you have a person who doesn’t like your surname or gender they can change the course of your life. This is a major contributing factor in doctors killing themselves.’
Commenting on the motion, BMA GP Committee deputy chair Mark Sanford-Wood said anonymising doctors’ details will present ’significant challenges’.
He said: ‘We agree entirely with the sentiments on this motion. We are very conscious of the difficulties that can arise, the kind of bias that can be introduced by organisational and structural factors but also the unconscious bias that we’re all aware of that can play out in any of these places.
‘We do however just have an anxiety around the consequences of little one. We’re concerned that a complete anonymisation of performed processes may not be compatible with something which provides a comprehensive and fair assessment that serves both the patient and the doctor involved.’
Dr Sanford-Wood then told Pulse that not knowing the doctor’s identity will make it challenging for investigations to be carried out, because the process is very ‘intertwined’.
He said: ‘It’s very difficult to see how people can investigate properly what’s going on without knowing demographic details and because it’s not like a court of law, with investigation, prosecution and the judge, our concern is that it will be quite difficult to separate the two and make it meaningful.’
‘We completely agree with the sentiment and we’re going to engage with NHS England about how to make that work. The conference is quite right to support a motion that is about trying to expunge bias from our system. But operationalising that may present quite significant challenges,’ Dr Sanford-Wood added.
The GMC has faced huge criticism from the medical profession for going to the High Court in order to strike off Nigerian-born Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba, who was convicted of gross negligence manslaughter.
In response, GP burnout expert Professor Clare Gerada called on the GMC last year to draw up a charter on how patient complaints are managed from ‘the doctor and nurse end’, after claiming ‘complaints kill doctors’.
Meanwhile, Pulse revealed that more than a quarter of black and minority ethnic GPs experience discrimination from patients at least monthly, with one GP explaining that patients ‘show dissatisfaction from the outset’ leading to ‘erroneous’ complaints about their competency.
Motion in full
That conference demands that the performance regulatory processes dealing with patient complaints:
(i) anonymise doctors’ details to reduce any bias in the system PASSED
(ii) establish reducing risk to doctors as one of their main aims PASSED