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UK ethnic minority GPs twice as likely to face GMC sanctions than white UK GPs

Exclusive Black and ethnic minority doctors from the UK are 30% more likely than white UK medical graduates to have a complaint made against them and twice as likely to face sanctions from the GMC, according to a new report from the regulator.

The GMC’s fourth annual State of Medical Education and Practice report looked at the differences between UK graduated BME and white GPs for the first time, and found that some 16% of BME GPs had been complained about, compared with 12% of white GPs between 2010 and 2013.

The regulator said it was going to take action to look at the reasons why BME doctors were more likely to be complained about, and said that the ‘latest evidence suggests that some of the issues surrounding the practice of these doctors are more likely to result in tougher sanctions’.

Ethnic minority GPs have previously said that they felt fitness-to-practice proceedings were unfair, and the BMA said the information was ‘concerning’.

The report covered over 25,000 complaints and 10,000 investigations that were made over the four-year period, and showed 14% of all GPs practising in the UK received a complaint and less than 1% were subsequently handed down a sanction or warning by the GMC.

It also found that complaints against UK-trained BME GPs were 17% more likely to be investigated than UK-trained white doctors and the complaints were 25% more likely to lead to a sanction or warning.

As a result, 0.8% of UK BME GPs had faced a sanction or a warning over the four-year period – double the proportion of white GPs who had faced sanction (0.4%).

A similar pattern was seen for BME doctors who graduated outside the UK, either within the European Economic Area (EEA) or outside the EEA.

The GMC concluded that BME doctors as a whole were more likely to receive sanctions or warnings because they had disproportionately high rates of complaints brought by their health authorities, including PCTs, and investigations related to criminal fraud – both of which are more likely to be upheld than complaints made by the public or relating to clinical competence.

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the GMC, said the regulator was looking in the reasons why BME doctors are more likely to have complaints made against them.

He said: We depend on BME doctors and on international medical graduates – the health service would have collapsed long ago without their skill, dedication and professionalism.

‘We know too that the overwhelming majority of doctors provide good, compassionate care for their patients. There are more than 260,000 practising in the UK and we have to take action in just a small number of cases.

‘But we do need to understand why the pattern of complaints and the outcomes of cases vary – and the latest evidence suggests that some of the issues surrounding the practise of these doctors are more likely to result in tougher sanctions.

Professor Aneez Esmail, a professor of general practice at the University of Manchester and an international expert on racism, who led a major GMC study of international graduate doctors’ failure of the MRCGP clinical skills assessment, called for more work to understand and address the disparity.

Professor Esmail told Pulse: ‘I commend the GMC for doing this and recognising the disparities. This has been a consistent pattern really, so I’m not sure where it gets us but the data are better now than it used to be – so it’s good they are putting in out in the public, but my only question would be why?

‘I don’t think that BME people are any more criminally minded than white people, or BME doctors are any worse than white but when a white doctor does something wrong, the threshold for following it up is higher.

‘It’s not that these doctors with complaints are not guilty necessarily – it’s always been the case I believe white doctors are not complained about or dealt with with the same seriousness.’

Dr Krishna Kasaraneni, a GP and the chair of the BMA’s equality and diversity committee, said: ‘The differences between the number of complaints aimed at BME doctors compared to other doctors is concerning. As the GMC’s report highlights, these differences are not restricted to healthcare, and it is clear that further investigation is needed to better understand the reasons for this.’