GMC race discrimination of doctors laid bare

The racial discrimination of doctors by the GMC has been laid bare in a landmark tribunal case involving “world renowned” urologist.

The racial discrimination of doctors by the GMC has been laid bare in a landmark tribunal case involving “world renowned” urologist.

In a case that has been hailed as a “landmark case” for all doctors, the Reading Employment Tribunal has upheld the complaints made by “world renowned” Consultant Urologist Mr Omar Karim, that he was discriminated against by the GMC on the grounds of his race.  This is the first time that a race discrimination claim has succeeded in the Employment Tribunal against the GMC.

Facts of the Case

Mr Karim worked as a consultant urological surgeon at Heatherwood and Wexham Park Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, later the Frimley Health NHS Foundation Trust (“the Trust”).

The events that span this case started in 2013, when the GMC received allegations of concern against Mr Karim.  The complaints were deemed not to meet the required threshold and were closed, with no further action.  In October 2014 the GMC received a copy of an external review commissioned by the Trust into the operation of the Urology Department.

The Trust had excluded Mr Karim, among others, in July 2014, while that investigation was being carried out. Mr Karim was reinstated two weeks after its conclusion. But a further investigation (Hollywood Report) was then commissioned after which Mr Karim was again suspended by the Trust in January 2015 and never returned to work at the Trust, having resigned on 22 May 2015.

In the meantime, in 2014, the Trust had referred Mr Karim to the GMC. On 3 March 2015, the Interim Orders Panel imposed restrictions on Mr Karim’s practice, pending the outcome of the GMC’s investigation. These restrictions had “catastrophic life-changing consequences” on Mr Karim’s surgical practice. It was not until August 2015 that the restrictions on Mr Karim’s practice were lifted.

His case was then referred to a full hearing before the Medical Practitioners Tribunal but not until some three years later. None of the allegations put against Mr Karim related to his clinical performance or his competence. The FTP (Fitness to Practice) hearing took place in April 2018 at which Mr Karim’s evidence was accepted in full, and Mr Karim was found not to have committed any act of misconduct at all.

Throughout this process Mr Karim alleged that his treatment by the GMC was discriminatory.   An adverse outcome could have signaled the end of his career, the loss of the means to earn a livelihood and damage to his international reputation of excellence.

How can a finding of racial discrimination be made against the GMC if it does not employ doctors?

The GMC is what is known as a “qualifications body” for the purposes of sections 53 and 54 of the Equality Act 2010 because they are responsible for, amongst other things, registrations.

As such, the duty to avoid discrimination, in this case on the grounds of race, applies to GMC decision making.

The tribunal noted in particular that GMC staff:

“…made decisions in the Claimant’s [Mr Karim] case had never met him nor had any face-to-face contact with him. Decisions made in the Claimant’s case were recorded contemporaneously in writing. There were a number of decisions and a number of decision-makers involved in the Claimant’s case.”

The relevant point from the above being that GMC make all kinds of decisions about doctors all the time and through this they have a duty of avoid bias and discrimination.

Comparison of the cases of Mr L (a white doctor) and Mr Karim

The Tribunal’s judgement found that Mr L’s case was closed by the GMC despite two of the allegations faced by the Mr L and Mr Karim were the same.  In the case of Mr L the allegation was not considered well founded while the same allegation against Mr Karim was considered well founded.

The Tribunal’s judgement also noted that the Interim Order Tribunal:

“…was concerned that there was a level of complacency about the operation of discrimination in the work of GMC or that there might be discrimination infecting the referral process.”

The tribunal concluded that:

“there is a difference in the treatment of the Claimant [Mr Karim] in contrast to Mr L, a white doctor.  We do not consider that there has been a credible explanation for the difference in the treatment.  While the conclusions on the Hollywood Report may have justified no further action by the Trust in respect of Mr L, where substantially the same matters arise in the case of the Claimant and Mr L we would expect to see them treated in substantially the same way.”

Ultimately, on the issue of racial discrimination, the tribunal found that the GMC:

“was looking for material to support allegations against the Claimant [Mr Karim] rather than fairly assessing matters presented”

and

“Taking into all the evidence including the statistical evidence about race which show a higher degree of adverse outcomes for BME doctors we consider that there is evidence from which we could conclude that the difference in treatment of the Claimant [Mr Karim] in comparison with Mr L and the delay were on the grounds of his race.

The value of specialist legal advice

BAME doctors are 29% of all UK doctors but 42% of complaints by employers are made against BME doctors. UK graduate BAME doctors are 50% more likely to get a sanction or warning than white doctors. Other evidence illustrated the adverse position of BME doctors when compared to white doctors.

There is overwhelming evidence that shows doctors with specialist legal advice fare much better than those who are not represented.  It is unfortunately clear from this case that BAME doctors do have a steeper hill to climb compared to white colleagues when it comes to fitness to practise fairness and equality.

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