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Set a fair exam and we won’t need to retrain ‘failed’ GPs

dr kamal sidhu 3x2

I welcome the announcement from Health Education England that GP trainees will now be allowed to re-enter training after failing one of their MRCGP examinations.

I do, however, worry that this will have a very limited impact.

These trainees and their families have been left battered and bruised by a system that results in BME doctors being more disadvantaged. Some have already left the country to move to systems that respect their abilities and treat them with greater fairness.

Of those left, some have been left too scarred to consider any form of retraining. Is it really fair to subject the rest of them to more distress, when the assessment format and its deficiencies still remain?

It seems perverse to haemorrhage trainees through the MRCGP and then try to recruit them back

It seems the system is hesitating to recognise some of the injustice meted out to these trainees. The indirect conclusion of this new development is a recognition that there are trainees out there who can succeed to be competent GPs, but have been let down by the existing system.

It is also apparent that the current demand and supply imbalance, compounded by ambitious but empty promises of thousands of more GPs, is softening the hearts of the powers that be.

It seems rather perverse that we continue to haemorrhage trainees through the MRCGP and then try to recruit them back. Surely, the solution should be not to lose these trainees in the first place. A fairer assessment process that attracts junior doctors to general practice instead of acting as a barrier will be in the interests of all including the tax-payer.

At this juncture, when the tragic case of Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba has thrown the whole medical profession into turmoil, there is a very strong feeling of differential and discriminatory treatment of BME doctors at every tier of the system.

We already know that the MRCGP has divided the training fraternity and that it became the subject of a judicial review. It remains a major cause of discontent with the College, especially amongst BME doctors.

There is no evidence the new MRCGP introduced in 2007 improved quality of care or that thousands of us who sat the old exam are any less competent.

Some people suggest that communication is the main reason that BME doctors struggle more with the new MRCGP and this makes them less competent and worthy of being a GP. This argument falters when you see that ‘second-generation’ BME doctors also have a higher failure rate despite being born and educated in the UK.

It is time this is put right so we can be assured that BME doctors present and future have an equal chance in these assessments, not based on their ethnicity or accent.

Surely, it is time that the college reconsiders its stance on the MRCGP. It owes it not just to members or the wider profession, but to every single patient who suffers from being unable to see a doctor or because their surgery is facing closure.

Dr Kamal Sidhu is a GP trainer in Blackhall, County Durham