GMC sets out plan to end barriers for doctors and medical students with disabilities

The GMC has vowed to end inconsistencies in support for junior doctors and medical students with disabilities - promising 'more tools and flexibility' to help trainees fulfil their potential.

NHS (Photo: SOPA images/Getty Images)
NHS (Photo: SOPA images/Getty Images)

Guidance published by the GMC, called 'Welcomed and valued: Supporting disabled learners in medical education and training', sets out how organisations can best support doctors in training and medical students with disabilities.

The GMC recommends that training organisations provide occupational health assessments for each doctors or trainee, with a view to forming an action plan on how they will be supported.

Steps tailored to meet the needs of both undergraduate and postgraduate doctors include forming support groups, allocating specific people as contacts, agreeing confidentiality arrangements and creating strategies to help doctors meet the demands of their courses or training.

GMC guidance

The GMC guidance says: ‘As the professional regulator, we firmly believe disabled people should be welcomed to the profession and valued for their contribution to patient care,’ the GMC guidance says.

‘Organisations must make reasonable adjustments for disabled people, in line with equality legislation. Making reasonable adjustments means making changes to the way things are done to remove the barriers individuals face because of their disability.’

Medical school data suggests that there are 3,727 medical students with a declared disability in the UK, roughly 9% of the medical student population. Meanwhile, 9% of doctors registered between January 2016 and July 2017 declared a disability and nearly 10% of people applying for provisional registration in 2017 declared a health condition in their application.

Professor Colin Melville, medical director and director of education and standards at the GMC, said: ‘There are already many disabled doctors who are making great contributions to healthcare across the UK, but there are often inconsistencies in the support they receive while they are training and learning.

Inconsistent support

‘We want those inconsistencies to end, and for all trainee doctors and medical students to be given the tools and the flexibility they need to fulfil their potential and to have successful careers in medicine.’

He added: ‘Our new guidance will help address that, by providing practical advice for medical schools and training locations about what they can do to make sure students and doctors with disabilities are supported.’

Dr Hannah Barham-Brown, a disabled doctor who helped advise the GMC on the new guidance, described the guidance as ‘a welcome and vital step towards better accessibility' in medicine.

‘As a profession, it is vital that we reflect the diversity of the patients we care for, and so disabled doctors and medical students need to be well supported throughout their training. We are an asset to the NHS, and should be treated as such,’ she said.

‘Medicine is a hard career without having to worry about how medical schools and colleagues will address your disability, so the GMC producing this work in conjunction with so many of us is hugely appreciated and has the potential to make much-needed change.’

The guidance also includes advice for educators on how to comply with UK equality legislation. This includes making ‘reasonable adjustments’ to ensure that disabled learners can ‘fully take part in education and other benefits, facilities and services’. However, the GMC says it ‘cannot define’ what adjustments are considered reasonable in medicine.

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