Black doctors more likely to face charges

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BLACK AND Asian doctors who qualified overseas are more than twice as likely to be charged with misconduct by the General Medical Council as their British trained colleagues - but there is no evidence that they are being unfairly discriminated against, an investigation has concluded.

The five-year investigation, involving two inquiries by the Policy Studies Institute into the working of the GMC, has cleared the doctors' disciplinary body of allegations of overt racism in the way it brings charges against doctors.

However, the findings, to be presented to the full council of the GMC today, leave unanswered the reasons for the discrepancy. Overseas qualified doctors, drawn mainly from the Indian subcontinent, represented 27 per cent of doctors in the UK but 52 per cent of those appearing before the professional conduct committee of the GMC in 1998. Finlay Scott, chief executive of the GMC, said: "The explanation [for the discrepancy] was never going to be as simple as saying that the GMC is racist. The explanation is more complex."

In 1998, the GMC received complaints about 2,415 identified doctors, of whom 26 per cent had qualified overseas, about the same as their proportion in the medical population. However, the proportion of overseas-trained doctors rose to 47 per cent among the 262 who were screened by the Preliminary Proceedings Committee and to 52 per cent among the 44 charged with misconduct.

Mr Scott said one question raised by the findings was whether British- trained, predominantly white doctors were getting away with behaviour that triggered complaints and investigations of colleagues who trained overseas. "There is unanimous agreement that all those who appeared before the Professional Conduct Committee should have been there and the charges against them deserved to be investigated. The question is whether there were other doctors who ought to have been there but weren't."

A second question was whether the prosecution rate of overseas doctors reflected poorer training standards in some countries abroad. During periods in the Fifties, doctors trained in India were refused employment in their own country because of fears about the standard of their training but still had the right to apply to practise in Britain.

Mr Scott said: "It may be that analysis of the age of the doctors appearing before the committee and the length of time they have been in the UK will show that the problems are not occurring among those admitted recently."

The president of the GMC, Sir Donald Irvine, said proposals for "revalidation" of all doctors - involving regular checks on their performance - which are due to be in place by early 2001, would mean poorly performing doctors would be picked up sooner.

Sir Donald said: "The system has been reactive in the past. Until recently we did not ask enough questions [about overseas doctors]. Now we do ask enough questions."