GMC investigations need urgent rethink after racial discrimination ruling, BMA warns

The BMA has urged the GMC to launch an urgent evaluation of its fitness-to-practise (FTP) procedure after a tribunal found it racially discriminated against a doctor.

Reading Employment Tribunal ruled that the GMC had discriminated against consultant urologist Dr Omer Karim because of his race during an investigation into his conduct.

The tribunal concluded that Dr Karim, who worked at Wexham Park Hospital in Slough, Berkshire, had received ‘less favourable treatment’ than a white colleague during a GMC investigation in 2014.

The regulator has said it will appeal the judgment, which it called ‘flawed’, and emphasised it remained committed to addressing concerns around discrimination.

Fitness to practise

But the BMA has warned that the landmark case highlighted ‘the issue of unfairness’ within the regulator’s disciplinary process - adding that it had caused ‘much anger and distress’ among the profession.

The ruling comes a month after the GMC set itself a five-year target for eliminating disproportionate complaints from employers about doctors from minority ethnic groups.

Allegations about Dr Karim's behaviour were first made in 2013, but they were dismissed, until the doctor was again referred to the GMC in 2014, when he was suspended.

The urologist, who is of mixed black African and European ethnicity, was suspended once more in January 2015 and later resigned from his post in May - ending the hospital’s investigations.

Racial discrimination

In 2018, Dr Karim was found innocent of any wrongdoing during a GMC investigation, but he argued that he had been racially discriminated against by the regulator. He highlighted that a similar concern led to no action against a white colleague.

The tribunal said: ‘We have come to the conclusion that there was less favourable treatment of [Dr Karim] in the way that he was treated in contrast to [his white colleague] and also in the delay in dealing with his case.

‘Taking into all the evidence...we consider that there is evidence from which we could conclude that the difference in treatment of [Dr Karim] in comparison with [his white colleague] and the delay were on the grounds of his race.’

Responding to the judgment, BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said doctors with minority ethnic backgrounds continued to face discrimination. He said: ‘The outcome of this landmark case has caused much anger and distress among the medical profession around the discriminatory treatment of ethnic minority doctors.

Unequal treatment

‘It is morally unacceptable for there to be unequal treatment for any sector of the medical profession in disciplinary processes. It is already known that ethnic minority doctors face [discrimination]...and this important case now raises the issue of unfairness within the GMC's disciplinary processes itself.

‘It is vital that the GMC openly acknowledges these concerns and demonstrates how it will provide the profession with the confidence that it treats all doctors in an even-handed manner. This must include urgently commissioning a comprehensive independent evaluation of its fitness-to-practise decision making procedures, and a commitment to act quickly on its findings.’

GMC chair Dame Clare Marx, said: ‘We know that many doctors feel discriminated against by the way in which referrals to the GMC are handled, and there remains much for us and others to do to change that.

‘But accepting a flawed tribunal judgment will not help achieve the aims we and others share to tackle inequalities where they exist in disciplinary proceedings for healthcare professionals...We know and are sorry that this will prolong uncertainty and anxiety for all involved, and we will seek to resolve this as swiftly as possible.’

Ethnic minority doctors are twice as likely to be referred to the GMC by their employers for FTP concerns than white doctors - and 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.

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