Working with doctors Working for patients

GMC determined to put fairness front and centre

Press Release

31 May 2014

The General Medical Council (GMC) must not only be fair, it must be seen to be fair, according to independent research published today.

We play a fundamental role in doctors’ professional lives, and, as the report suggests, we must not only be fair, but be seen to be fair.

Niall Dickson, Chief Executive of the GMC

The report by the research consultancy NatCen Social Research shows that, while the vast majority of doctors are confident in how the GMC carries out its role, more needs to be done to build trust among certain groups of doctors.

The research looked at how doctors practicing in the UK view the GMC, based on a sample of 3,500 medics, covering issues such as how the GMC registers doctors and how it investigates and takes action following complaints about doctors.

Nearly eight out of ten (79%) of those surveyed were confident in the way that the GMC regulates the profession, while 85% said they had confidence in the GMC’s ability to protect patient safety.

However, there were variations between those who were trained in the UK and those who qualified overseas. Overall, and contrary to what is sometimes suggested, Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) doctors had more confidence in the GMC than White doctors, and non-UK qualified doctors had more confidence than UK qualified doctors.

But the picture was the other way round when it came to confidence in individual GMC functions. BME doctors were significantly less likely than their white counterparts to believe the GMC’s registration process – which approves doctors for practise in the UK – is fair for all doctors. Nearly one in three BME doctors – and an equivalent number of non-UK qualified doctors – held this view.

GMC Chief Executive Niall Dickson is determined to challenge this perception:

‘It is reassuring that the vast majority of doctors, from all backgrounds, have confidence in what we do, but it is clear we have more to do. Our role must always be to put patients first but to achieve that we need to work closely with doctors and it is vital that, regardless of where they trained, their ethnicity or their background, each of them trusts us to operate fairly at all times and in the best interests of patient safety.

‘We may never be popular but we play a fundamental role in doctors’ professional lives, and, as the report suggests, we must not only be fair, but be seen to be fair.’

Some of the starkest differences between the perceptions of white and BME doctors were around the way in which complaints about doctors are handled. While the majority of white doctors believe that – should they be subject to such an investigation or a public hearing – they would be treated fairly and in an equivalent way to others, BME doctors and those who qualified outside of the UK were more doubtful. Of those who did not believe they would be treated fairly, more than one in four (27%) said that this was because of their ethnicity.

The overwhelming majority of doctors – nearly nine out of ten – thought that outcomes of fitness to practise investigations were fair, but the research showed some concern among BME and non-UK qualified doctors that outcomes for them or those from similar backgrounds may be more severe than for their white colleagues.

Niall Dickson acknowledged that, while progress has been made to ensure that the GMC’s processes are fair and transparent, there is more to do:

‘It is good to see that many doctors believe there has been progress in this area over the past five years, but I also recognise that we need to do more. That is why we are commissioning new research to look at the consistency and fairness of our investigations and the outcomes of those investigations.

‘We have a diverse medical profession in the UK and it is all the stronger for that. We need to acknowledge and value the immense contribution that doctors with different characteristics and different training make to our healthcare day in, day out. At the GMC we will do all we can to support them to achieve the best possible care for patients.’

Niall Dickson concluded:

‘This is a complex area, and we are committed to encouraging greater transparency.

‘We are taking forward a major programme of research and working with everyone involved in this area to ensure doctors are adequately supported and fairly assessed. We are working with the medical royal colleges to publish information about the pass rates for their postgraduate examinations, so we can fully understand the experiences of doctors from different backgrounds as well as identify areas of good practice. At the same time, we are working with the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges to publish new standards for examiners. We will also work with those who train doctors at local level to do everything we can to make sure every doctor in training has the support and supervision they need to succeed.

‘We need to ensure that we continue to set the bar high for ourselves, as well as for doctors. We are beginning to roll out our Welcome to UK Practice programme to provide support to doctors new to the UK. We will also intensify our programme of regular engagement with UK medical students. All of this is not only in the interests of doctors, but in the interests of patients too.’

Notes to Editors

Fieldwork was carried out between August 2013 and November 2013.

The sample of doctors was drawn from a pseudonymised extract of the GMC’s register. All doctors on the register with a UK address and a license to practise were eligible for selection. The sample was stratified by ethnicity, place of qualification and numbers of years licensed (more or less than 15 years). BME doctors were oversampled in order to ensure that enough responses were obtained to allow for meaningful analysis. 6,781 doctors were sampled at this stage. The GMC ran an optout process with the sampled doctors, giving them the opportunity to opt out of the research at this stage. 139 doctors opted out, leaving a total eligible sample of 6,642. 3,476 doctors completed the survey, representing a response rate of 52.3%.

The full report can be found here.

NatCen Social Research is an independent, not for profit organisation.

The General Medical Council is the independent regulator of the UK's 260,000 doctors.

Our job is to protect, promote and maintain the health and safety of the public by ensuring proper standards in the practice of medicine.

We do this by managing entry to the medical register and setting the educational standards for all UK doctors through medical schools and postgraduate education and training. We also determine the principles and values that underpin good medical practice and we take firm but fair action where those standards have not been met. This role and the powers to do it are given to us by Parliament through the 1983 Medical Act.

We are not here to protect the medical profession - their interests are protected by others. Our job is to protect patients. We are independent of government and the profession and accountable to Parliament.

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