GMC urged to learn from racism ruling and stop 'wasting money' on costly legal appeal

The GMC should seek to learn from a ruling that it discriminated against a doctor on the grounds of his race rather than 'wasting fee-paying doctors' money' on a costly legal appeal, a doctors' group has said.

Last month an employment tribunal found that the GMC discriminated against a doctor on the grounds of his race during a fitness to practise (FtP) investigation in 2014.

The GMC said that it would appeal the ‘flawed’ judgment, which found that consultant urologist Dr Omer Karim received ‘less favourable treatment’ than a white colleague.

However, the Doctors’ Association UK (DAUK) has argued in a letter that the GMC's decision to appeal the judgment shows an unwillingness to ‘understand barriers’ facing black and minority ethnic doctors.

Fitness to practise

The letter, addressed to the GMC and the health and social care secretary, accuses the regulator of failing to learn the lessons from the high-profile case of Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba - at a time when it is targeting elimination of disproportionate complaints about ethnic minority doctors.

Following the tribunal ruling, GMC chair Dame Clare Marx admitted that there was ‘much for us and others to do’ to ensure that doctors did not feel discriminated against when facing FtP proceedings.

But she argued that accepting a ‘flawed’ judgment would ‘not help to achieve the aims we have to tackle inequalities’, insisting the regulator would seek a quick resolution to the case of Dr Karim.

However, the DAUK letter said it was ‘very concerned’ about the regulator’s decision to appeal. It said: ‘This is a landmark ruling within the medical profession. It is the first time that the GMC has been found to be legally responsible for structural racism and discrimination within the NHS.

Ethnic minority doctors

‘However, [the fact] that the GMC appears willing to spend its members’ money on a retributive appeal, rather than investigating and adjusting the local and systemic issues through which a case such as this could ever have arisen, comes across as deeply disappointing.

‘We recommend [the GMC] takes lasting and restorative action beyond the short-sighted punitive measures that it is currently pursuing, even though it has previously stated it would adopt recommendations for the better after the Bawa-Garba case.’

A DAUK spokesperson added: ‘The verdict in favour of Mr Karim has been seen as vindication for the black and minority ethnic doctors who are more than twice as likely as their white colleagues to face referrals regarding their fitness to practise.

‘For the GMC to appeal is for them to misunderstand just how much accountability and restorative justice for institutional racism matters, not just for the nearly 60,000-strong BAME workforce in the NHS, but for the organisation in general.’

Diversity and inclusion

Responding to the letter, a GMC spokesperson said: ‘We recognise that there is genuine concern about the way in which doctors from ethnic minorities are referred to the GMC and how those referrals are handled.

‘We are working hard with health leaders to eradicate inequalities where they exist and remain absolutely focused on our work to target inequalities and promote equality, diversity and inclusion – both in our own processes, and across the UK health system.

‘We have set an ambitious target to eradicate the disproportionate referral rates from employers for FtP concerns which we will pursue through joint working with employers, regulators, education and training bodies.’

In May the GMC set itself a five-year target for eliminating disproportionate complaints from employers about doctors from minority ethnic groups. It is also aiming to halt bias in medical education within a decade.

The government set out plans earlier this year intended to speed up FtP cases and to press ahead with stripping the GMC of its power of appeal.

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