The comments came from the president of the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO) ahead of an appeal taking place next week that will challenge the decision to remove Dr Bawa-Garba from the medical register.
Dr Bawa-Garba was struck off in January this year after a 12-month suspension imposed by a medical tribunal was overturned by a challenge from the GMC in the High Court.
GPonline reported this week that the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO) had been recognised as an interested party in the appeal hearing. The organisation has hired a top lawyer who will make a submission about the role of discrimination and equality in the treatment of Dr Bawa-Garba.
BAPIO president Dr Ramesh Mehta told GPonline this week: 'If Dr Bawa-Garba was white she wouldn’t have landed in such deep trouble.
‘Our submission will concentrate on worse outcomes for black and minority ethnic (BME) doctors referred to the GMC. Discrimination is an NHS-wide problem [and] institutional racism affects quality of care for patients.'
Responding to the comments from BAPIO, a GMC spokeswoman said: 'We take our responsibility to be a fair and transparent regulator very seriously. As the host of the BME Forum we have been working constructively with members for a number of years and we do our utmost to ensure that all our processes are even-handed and just, listening and acting on feedback to make improvements to our processes.
'Audits have consistently found that our fitness to practice processes and guidance are fair and consistent and do not introduce bias. But we do know that there is an overrepresentation of BME doctors that have been complained about and we want to know more about what is driving this, as well as whether there is an under representation of other doctors. That is why we are intensifying our efforts to better understand this issue through more detailed research, analysis and advice.’
BAPIO has made previous high-profile challenges over discrimination against BME doctors, securing a judicial review against the GMC and RCGP in 2014 over concerns that the CSA element of the MRCGP exam was biased against BME doctors. The judicial review was lost, with a judge ruling that the CSA was 'lawful and fair', but BAPIO claimed a 'moral victory' after the court acknowledged the need for action to tackle differential pass rates in the CSA.
Following the GMC's decision to strike off Dr Bawa-Garba earlier this year, BAPIO accused the GMC of racial discrimination. A letter from the organisation to the GMC read: ‘Given the published data that BME doctors are three to five times more likely to get GMC public warnings and restrictions compared to white doctors, we find it hard not to come to the conclusion that Dr Bawa-Garba’s pursuit by the GMC reflects the inherent bias that exists within the GMC which treats BME doctors differently and harshly.’
The GMC described the accusations as ‘troubling and without merit’, responding: ‘It is true that certain groups, including BME doctors, are disproportionately represented in the complaints that are made to us, and the figures show that between 2012 and 2016, 10.2% of all BME and 8.8% of all white doctors had a complaint made to the GMC about them.'
However, the regulator said it had found 'no evidence of bias in GMC decision-making related to ethnicity’.
The GMC is currently carrying out an investigation to find out why a disproportionate number of BME doctors are subject to fitness-to-practise referrals, with a report expected early in 2019.