The General Medical Council (GMC) has improved ethnic minority workforce representation ‘at all levels’ and progression rates for ethnic minority staff, it has claimed in a new report into diversity, equality and inclusion in the body.
However, it found that the gap in employer fitness to practice referral rates between ethnic minority doctors and white doctors fell just 0.04 percentage points, from 0.28% (0.30% white, 0.58% ethnic minority) during 2016-2020, to 0.24% (0.26% white, 0.50% ethnic minority) during 2017-2021.
The Medical Protection Society (MPS) has said the current situation remains ‘unacceptable’ and that more action is needed.
The GMC report said: ‘Our data shows that employer referrals have moved in a positive direction, with the gap in referral rates reducing across both measures and the proportion of designated bodies that are disproportionate slightly declining.’
The report follows a pledge last year by the GMC to eliminate disproportionate complaints from employers about ethnic minority doctors by 2026 and to eradicate disadvantage and discrimination in medical education and training by 2031.
As part of this commitment, the body said it would publish details of its progress annually, of which this is the first.
The report, published today (10 March), found that fairness measures for medical education and training have remained at similar levels to before the GMC’s pledge. However, it said this was not unexpected due to education and training outcomes reflecting ‘a complex interplay of inequalities over a 10-15-year period in which a doctor is training’.
The GMC said that employment targets showed ‘consistent and significant improvement’, with recruitment metrics ‘on target’.
It said: ‘Our overall workforce representation is likely to be in line with, or above, our 2023 target. Our staff turnover and progression rates for ethnic minority staff are also improving and are already line with our 2023 targets.’
The GMC is ‘not complacent’
GMC chief executive Charlie Massey said: ‘This update sets out the actions taken by us, and by others, to drive change. The early indications are good, but we are not complacent. Much more needs to be done.
‘The issues are longstanding, and the incremental changes that are being made may take time to work through to the data.
‘We will continue our sustained focus, and we are calling on other organisations to do the same.’
Commenting on the report, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA chair of council, said that cultural transformation within the health service was needed to eliminate discrimination:
‘All doctors – regardless of characteristic – must be treated with the same levels of respect and dignity while working. While today’s first update from the GMC on their EDI targets shows some areas of progress, disparities continue to effect doctors with many still suffering due to unequal treatment. There is still a long way to go.
‘It is clear that there remains a desperate need of greater accountability for NHS leaders to ensure inclusive leadership at all levels.’
Professor Dame Jane Dacre, president of MPS, said more action was needed to reach the GMC’s target.
‘The GMC’s drive to stamp out disproportionate referrals against ethnic minority doctors and those who qualify outside of the UK is welcome – all doctors have the right to a fair and inclusive environment and the current situation remains unacceptable,’ she said.
‘We recognise there are multiple and complex causes behind this issue, and that changes in the figures over a longer time period will provide a clearer indication of progress, however the target year of 2026 is just around the corner and more action is needed.’
Wider NHS is making ‘slow progress’
The news comes as NHS Providers has published a report called Race 2.0: Time for real change, which identified 10 key priorities to improve racial equality across the NHS.
The report, which surveyed 254 trust leaders across 134 trusts in the NHS, found that though progress was being made, only 4% of trust leaders said race equality was fully embedded as part of their board’s business.
Trust leaders who responded said they felt anger and frustration at the slow pace of progress.
However, 63% of respondents said they had progressed in building a more diverse board, and 77% had made progress on actions to improve workforce wellbeing.
But, only 22% said they had made progress in actions to retain ethnic minority staff.
Commenting on the report, Dr Habib Naqvi, director of the NHS Race and Health Observatory, said:
‘If we are to have a healthcare system that truly serves all of the people, all of the time, then tackling ethnic inequalities must become a critical priority for everyone. The Observatory welcomes this report and looks forward to working with NHS Providers, and other stakeholders, to make progress on this critical agenda.’
The chief executive of NHS Providers, Chris Hopson said:
‘This report makes clear the scale of the challenge in front of us to achieve true race equality – both in trusts, and for NHS Providers as an organisation.
‘We acknowledge with today’s report, and through our own internal work over the last year, that progress has not gone anywhere near far or fast enough.
‘It is unacceptable that, in aggregate, whole sections of our population suffer worse health outcomes as a result of their ethnicity. And whole sections of our staff are unable to give of their best as a result of how they are treated, due to their race.
‘It is clear that white leaders like myself need to do significantly more to effect much greater change at a faster pace.’
In 2019, a GMC study found that there was ‘no evidence’ that GPs’ race, sex and age affect tribunal decisions.
However, in 2021, the body set targets to tackle ‘persistent areas of inequality’.