Healthcare leaders must embrace equality, diversity and inclusion

Healthcare leaders must embrace equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) initiatives as key to tackling the NHS workforce crisis, the Chief Executive of the General Medical Council (GMC) urged today (Wednesday 7 June).

He said there was a ‘clear business case’ for prioritising ED&I work, as doctors in inclusive environments were more likely to remain in the UK’s health services and provide better and safer care for patients.

His comments come as the GMC publishes the latest report on its progress – as a regulator and as an employer – in combatting inequality. It shows a fall in disproportionate fitness to practise referrals of ethnic minority doctors by employers.

The regulator has set targets to eliminate all disproportionate referrals from employers about ethnic minority doctors by 2026, and to eradicate disadvantage and discrimination in medical education and training by 2031.

"Supportive cultures and inclusive leadership are the most important drivers of compassionate care, and key for the future sustainability of the workforce."

Charlie Massey

GMC Chief Executive

The gap in referral rates during the five years to 2022 was 0.19% (0.41% ethnic minority compared to 0.22% white), down from 0.24% (0.5% ethnic minority, 0.26% white) between 2017 and 2021. 

The proportion of employers with referrals that were disproportionate in terms of ethnicity or international primary medical qualification also fell, from 5.3% in 2017-2021 to 4.4% in 2018-2022.

Charlie Massey said:

‘Supportive cultures and inclusive leadership are the most important drivers of compassionate care, and key for the future sustainability of the workforce. System leaders must not yield to pressures to de-prioritise ED&I initiatives. There is a clear business case for them, and it is patients who ultimately benefit.’

The GMC is also striving to improve its own diversity and inclusivity, to improve career progression and representation of ethnic minority staff at all levels, and to address gender and ethnicity pay gaps.

Today’s publication of Equality, diversity and inclusion: targets, progress and priorities for 2023 is the latest annual update on progress towards ED&I targets.

The report shows:

  • The disparity in fitness to practise referrals from employers is on track to continue to reduce towards the GMC’s targets by 2026.
  • Four out of five education and training measures show some year-on-year narrowing of the gap in attainment between white and ethnic minority doctors. The exception is doctors’ self-reported preparedness for their first foundation year post.
  • The GMC is on track to have 20% of its staff from an ethnic minority background by 2026, although it is not currently meeting its target for ethnic minority employees in management roles.

The report says that across the UK’s health services there is a ‘great deal of activity and a willingness to work together to drive improvements’. 

Among initiatives highlighted is a clinical exam preparation course, commissioned by the GMC and Health Education England and run by the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych). Its impact on pass rates for ethnic minority doctors and international medical graduates (IMGs) is still being evaluated, but results are encouraging.

Interim findings show substantially improved pass rates for IMG ethnic minority doctors, 72% compared to a previous five-year average of 33%. The GMC is working with the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and RCPsych to learn from the pilot.

Charlie Massey added:

‘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.’

The GMC is committed to publishing details of progress against its targets annually. Read more about our targets to address areas of inequality.