Doctors don't trust their colleaguesMore needs to be done to build trust among groups of doctors and the General Medical Council, according to research consultancy NatCen.

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 10 (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.

But 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 practice 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 10 – 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”.