In-house review not enough to stop 'unjust' GMC referrals, warns BMA

Doctors' leaders have repeated calls for a full independent review of the GMC referral process - warning that an in-house review into the case of a GP suspended after claiming she was promised a laptop does not go far enough.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul
BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul (Photo: JH Lancy)

The GMC announced this week that it had appointed a senior doctor who chairs its BME committee along with a QC to lead an investigation into the suspension of Manchester GP Dr Manjula Arora.

The Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) ruled in May that Dr Arora should serve a one-month suspension after finding that she had dishonestly claimed to have been promised a laptop - in a decision described as 'perplexing and concerning' by doctors' leaders.

The BMA said last month that the case showed the need for a 'root and branch' independent review of the entire GMC fitness to practise referral process - and has warned that the 'in-house' review promised by the regulator falls short.

GMC review

BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said the handling of Dr Arora's case showed that the current GMC referral process was 'manifestly unjust' - and warned it was part of a 'worrying trend of ethnic minority doctors facing disproportionate referral, investigation and sanctions'.

He said: 'While it is notable that the GMC has decided to review Dr Arora’s case, an in-house review falls short of the root and branch independent evaluation of the entire GMC referral pathway that the BMA has called for. It is important to note that the review into Dr Arora’s case may provide answers to how the GMC got it so badly wrong on this specific occasion, but it will not change the sanction or its impact on Dr Arora.'

He said GMC investigations were traumatic for doctors and that there was a 'moral imperative' that fitness to practise investigations were used 'proportionately, appropriately, and only when necessary'.

Dr Nagpaul added: 'This case demonstrates how the current system is structurally disproportionate, lacks timeliness, with insufficient checks and balances, and is manifestly unjust. Dr Arora is just the latest example in a worrying trend of ethnic minority doctors facing disproportionate referral, investigation and sanctions from the regulator and MPTS.'

Fitness to practise

The GMC admitted this week that the case of Dr Arora had 'raised concerns among the medical profession about whether the handling of the case and the outcome of the hearing were proportionate to the allegations received by the GMC'.

The terms of reference for the review will cover how the case was referred to the GMC, the decision to proceed to a fitness to practise hearing and how the case was handled.

GMC chief executive Charlie Massey said it was 'right that the GMC’s decisions about a doctor’s ability to practise in the UK are open to scrutiny' and that the regulator should be 'open to learning'.

However, BMA chair Dr Nagpaul added: 'The BMA has been clear that an external scrutiny panel is needed to assess each potential employer referral to ensure that it is fair and objective, and consider whether the issue could be more appropriately dealt with locally and swiftly. Upon receipt of a referral, the profession must have confidence in the objectivity and fairness of the GMC’s decision to investigate.

'We would therefore urge the GMC to complement this specific review with an independent evaluation of the entire referral pathway. Nothing short of this will secure justice and fairness in medical regulation.'

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