GMC demands 'greater autonomy' to tackle bias against BAME doctors

The GMC has called for ‘greater autonomy’ to choose the complaints it investigates, to help combat ‘shameful’ bias against ethnic minority doctors.

GMC chief executive Charlie Massey (Photo: GMC)
GMC chief executive Charlie Massey (Photo: GMC)

GMC chief executive Charlie Massey is expected to warn at a Westminster Health Forum event on 11 May that too many doctors from ethnic minorities continue to experience disadvantage through the system for investigating complaints - insisting that the pandemic had further exposed disparities.

Mr Massey explained that government consultation proposals to cut red tape and give greater freedom to regulators would ensure ‘fairer and faster outcomes’ and reduce stress for doctors under investigation.

Investigating fewer cases would free up more time and allow the watchdog to ‘support and nurture doctors’, rather than ‘stepping in when things go wrong’, the GMC chief executive said.

Fitness to practise

Doctors from black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) communities are more than twice as likely to be referred by an employer to fitness to practise procedures as white colleagues, according to a report commissioned by the GMC in June 2019.

More than four in five referrals by an employer are formally investigated by the GMC - creating a significantly increased risk for BAME doctors of receiving a warning or sanction. Last year 1,164 BAME doctors were referred to the GMC compared with 953 white colleagues.

Proposals in the government’s consultation on medical regulation, which runs until 16 June, would give regulators such as the GMC powers to be more selective about the cases they investigate.

GMC chair Dame Clare Marx warned last November that discrimination was ‘still visible’ within the medical profession. But Mr Massey argued that the proposals, if approved, would help to combat these issues.

'Shameful' discrimination

He said: ‘The pandemic has showcased the deep pride we all hold in our health services. But it has exposed a shameful side too - that too many doctors from ethnic minorities continue to experience disadvantage. This ranges from educational attainment and career progression, to their likelihood of being referred to their regulator.

‘We are required to fully assess every complaint we receive, even if it doesn’t raise serious fitness to practise concerns and won’t meet our legal thresholds. Reform will allow us to be much more focused in deciding which cases we investigate, and how we do it – ensuring fairer and faster outcomes.’

‘Tinkering round the edges won’t cut it. What is required now is... a new model of regulation to meet 21st century needs,’ he added.

Mr Massey said the changes, first proposed by the government on 24 March, would provide the regulator with ‘better options for concluding cases’ - allowing it to take a ‘more proportionate approach’.

Complaints

Proposals out for consultation also confirm the government's intent to remove the GMC’s right to appeal fitness to practise panel decisions in line with recommendations in the 2018 Williams review - and to speed up cases.

High rates of GMC referrals for doctors from BAME backgrounds are fuelled by a lack of support, isolation and poor feedback, a GMC-commissioned report found in 2019. In 2014 the GMC developed the Welcome to UK Practise programme: a free half-day workshop designed to support doctors new to the UK adapt to working in the NHS.

Medico-legal experts warned last year that GPs could face a huge wave of complaints due to changes to working practices adopted during the pandemic and delays in access to secondary care.

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