The GMC has said it is ‘on track’ to achieving its target of eliminating all disproportionate complaints from employers about ethnic minority doctors by 2026.
In its annual report showing progress on tackling inequality, published this week, the regulator showed that the differential rate of fitness to practise referrals for ethnic minority doctors compared with white doctors had decreased over recent years.
The gap in referral rates during the five years to 2022 was 0.19% (0.41% ethnic minority compared with 0.22% white), down from 0.24% (0.50% ethnic minority, 0.26% white) between 2017 and 2021.
In addition to the target on disproportionate complaints, the GMC has also committed to eradicating disadvantage and discrimination in medical education and training by 2031.
Four out of the five indicators it uses to measure equality in education and training have shown a ‘year-on-year narrowing of the gap in attainment between white and ethnic minority doctors’, according to the GMC report.
These four indicators include education performance, inclusive environments, postgraduate exams and the annual review of competency progression (ARCP).
The exception to this was the indicator for doctors’ self-reported preparedness for their first foundation year post, which has widened.
The report also showed the difference in pass rate between UK-trained doctors and international medical graduates has reduced from 29.3 percentage points to 25.2 between 2019 and 2021.
Meanwhile, the GMC measures its own progress on inclusivity and equality as an employer. It reported that it is on track to have 20% of its staff from an ethnic minority background by 2026, but admitted that progress to increase ethnic minority representation in management roles has proved ‘more challenging’.
The report said: ‘The data shows continued positive progress on a number of the measures, but some areas show little progress or are falling back.
It added: ‘We are working towards eliminating differentials in employer referrals by the end of 2026, but we recognise that there may be factors or developments that emerge during this period which might impact on our ability to eliminate differentials altogether. Regular monitoring will allow us all to keep scrutinising this and review mechanisms to continue in the right direction.’
Chief Executive of the GMC Charlie Massey said system leaders ‘must not yield to pressures to de-prioritise’ equality, diversity and inclusion initiatives, as there is a ‘clear business case for them’, including benefit to patients.
He said: ‘This report shows change can happen and progress is being made, but there is no room for complacency, by us or by others. Eradicating these issues, for the benefit of medical professionals and patients, means accelerating the pace of change.
‘We will continue to work with others to drive the change that doctors deserve, and we expect our partners across healthcare to do the same. Every doctor from every background deserves to work in an environment where they can achieve their full potential.’
In response to the report, the BMA’s representative body chair and equality lead Dr Latifa Patel said the evidence of progress is ‘encouraging’ but the union’s members ‘hold deep concerns about discrimination and racial bias within the GMC’s own processes’.
She said: ‘The BMA and our doctors will no longer tolerate discrimination and bias and while it’s good to have GMC targets what’s needed is wholesale cultural transformation in our NHS, where there is a commitment to equal opportunity and enabling each doctor to progress and achieve their full potential.’
Head of medical at GP indemnity organisation MDDUS Dr Naeem Nazem also argued that ‘there is much more to be done’.
‘[The GMC’s] work to address the disproportionate number of doctors from minority ethnic backgrounds who face disciplinary hearings is a start, but while these doctors remain more vulnerable to complaints than others this remains a serious concern for us,’ he said.
Earlier this year, the GMC committed to equality, diversity and inclusion training for its staff to reduce bias in its decision-making processes.
Last November, the GMC launched a new hub aimed at providing assistance to doctors who experience racism and discrimination at work.
A version of this story was first published on our sister title Pulse.