BAME doctors do not start career on 'level playing field', admits GMC chief

Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) doctors do not start their careers on ‘a level playing field’ and ‘more and more’ will be harmed by discrimination unless there is immediate action, the GMC chief executive has warned.

GMC chief executive Charlie Massey
GMC chief executive Charlie Massey

Speaking at the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO) annual conference last weekend, GMC chief executive Charlie Massey said that prejudice ‘continued to blight’ doctors’ working lives, warning it had the potential to ‘breed poor clinical outcomes’.

He told the conference that dealing with discrimination within medicine was one of the most ‘pressing priorities’ across the NHS. Mr Massey said there was now a ‘growing clamour’ for change across the health service but highlighting that solutions were 'needed now'.

He revealed that the GMC was accelerating the pace of its equality diversity and inclusion programme, which it launched earlier this year, and promised doctors ‘tangible, appreciable action’.

Ethnic minority doctors

His comments come just weeks after doctors at the BMA’s annual representatives meeting demanded a major review of the UK's professional regulation system, warning it discriminates against staff from black, Asian and other minority ethnic backgrounds.

Doctors from BAME backgrounds are twice as likely to be referred to the GMC by their employers for fitness to practise concerns than white doctors. The referral rate for doctors qualifying outside of the UK is three times higher than that for UK doctors, according to the GMC's Fair to Refer report.

In May, the GMC set itself a five-year target for eliminating disproportionate complaints from employers about doctors from minority ethnic groups and is also aiming to halt bias in medical education. But Mr Massey said this work could be accelerated.

Speaking at the BAPIO annual conference, he said: ‘Over this time, much has been said about the disadvantage and discrimination that continue to blight black and minority ethinic (BME) doctors’ working lives. There is a very clear moral case for tackling these issues – it is unambiguously the right thing to do. BME doctors do not start with a level playing field. The status quo is quite simply unjust. And unless things change, more and more doctors will be harmed by it.

Poor clinical outcomes

‘Doctors who work in supportive, inclusive environments deliver better care than those who work in closed, exclusionary ones. Inequality and prejudice breed poor clinical outcomes. That’s why, as a patient safety body, we see tackling these issues as mission critical.

‘And while there has been much goodwill, the pace of improvement has not been proportionate to the scale of the challenge. We’re past the point where warm words will suffice. What is required now is tangible, appreciable action.’

Mr Massey said the GMC’s outreach teams were working closely with its responsible officers to ensure appriasals were assisting with doctors' wellbeing and professional development. The GMC has also redesigned its referral process, making responsible officers confirm the steps they have taken to ensure referrals are appropriate.

He added the regulator was also looking within its own organisation to eliminate prejudice, acting already to increase the number of employees from black, Asian or other minority ethinic groups at all levels since last year.

Earlier this year the GMC called for changes to legislation to allow it ‘greater autonomy’ to choose the complaints it investigates, which it says will help its teams combat bias against doctors from BAME backgrounds.

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