Exclusive The controversial case in which a GP was accused of dishonesty after saying she had been ‘promised’ a laptop ‘damaged’ GMC efforts to build trust with BAME doctors, its chief executive has said.
Last week, a review into the GMC’s handling of the case found that the allegations should never have reached the regulator, but that there was ‘no clear or conclusive evidence’ for bias in the case.
In an exclusive interview with Pulse, GMC chief executive and registrar Charlie Massey said that the level of ‘concern’ about whether or not the case ‘was affected by the doctor’s ethnicity’ was ‘one of the reasons’ why he commissioned the review.
He told Pulse that he wanted to ‘demonstrate an openness to learning’ to ethnic minority doctors.
He added: ‘Obviously, on the one hand, I was pleased that [the review] found that there was no evidence of bias in this case.
‘But I would be completely mistaken to believe that therefore this hasn’t damaged our desire to build confidence in us as a regulator amongst doctors from ethnic minorities.’
Mr Massey told Pulse that the ‘discriminatory’ health system is ‘a massive issue’ and ‘frankly just wrong’ – and that he is ‘100% committed to pushing the agenda’ of building trust from BAME doctors.
He added: ‘I hope that doctors and others can see the extent of our efforts, not just in terms of the level of ambition that we set for ourselves in eliminating disproportionality in fitness to practise and eliminating those gaps in differential attainment, which is a very ambitious commitment, but also the steps that we’ve been taking to achieve that.’
Mr Massey also told Pulse that he ‘can’t really do much’ about the fact that ‘difficult’ fitness to practise cases involving a doctor from an ethnic minority ‘will often create an impression of bias’ in the GMC’s processes.
But he said that the regulator must be ‘straightforward in apologising’ where it has made a mistake and ‘show some humility’ – to restore confidence not only among BAME colleagues but among all doctors.
He said: ‘I hope the fact that we’re being so straightforward in admitting that we got this wrong and apologising for that will give doctors some assurance that we are actively seeking out lessons from our own cases and taking action on the back of them.’
‘Obviously, there’s a question about how people can have confidence in how we manage cases that are referred to us. I’ve already spoken about my desire that we resolve more of those cases locally, I think success will look like fewer cases coming into our fitness-to-practise processes, more cases being resolved through engagement with employers locally.’
He added that he hopes he is ‘able to give some assurance that we’re going to be doing more that will help us stop things entering our processes’ and that cases that do proceed into hearings are handled in the right way – but that ‘the proof of the pudding will be in the eating’.
Mr Massey also told Pulse that it ‘would be wrong to say’ there is a ‘quick fix’, but that there are changes that the GMC ‘should be making in the here and now’.
He added that audits on the regulator’s processes are ‘important’ but ‘not enough’ to tackle the issue of bias and that ‘training’ for its staff might be needed.
The GMC is currently conducting another review into ‘regulatory fairness’ that will set out more detailed plans and is expected for publication next month, he said.
Meanwhile, Mr Massey told Pulse that no heads will roll as a consequence of the mistake made in Dr Arora’s case as this would be counterproductive.
He said: ‘We’re not going to learn the lessons if the immediate thing we turn to is fear and blame, there’s quite enough of that around elsewhere. That’s not my approach or style.
‘If I was to start with the presumption that a head would roll when we made a mistake, what I would be doing would be to be embedding cultures and processes that actually didn’t enable people to raise issues or concerns.’
He added: ‘We’re all human. We can all make mistakes. The issue is about how we behave when mistakes are made.’
The controversial laptop case
The MPTS had suspended Dr Manjula Arora for a month for ‘dishonesty’ earlier this year after she told an IT department she had been ‘promised’ a laptop. The tribunal said that she had ‘exaggerated’ these claims, and as a result found that her fitness to practise was impaired.
But the GMC effectively overturned the ruling in June, saying the dishonesty test was ‘incorrectly’ applied. And it announced that it would undertake a review into its handling of the case following an outcry from across the profession.
And in July, Pulse revealed that the case cost almost £40,000, not including the costs incurred by Dr Arora herself.