The General Medical Council (GMC) has pledged to introduce tailored equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) training for its staff after a review found bias in its decision-making.
The review, which was triggered after an employment tribunal in 2021 found the medical regulator had racially discriminated against consultant urological surgeon Omer Karim in a fitness-to-practise investigation, makes 23 recommendations concerning equality, diversity and mitigating bias.
It found that GMC staff were uncomfortable talking about how bias might impact their work, which can make it “almost impossible to recognise and address the barriers to building a fair working culture”, the report says.
It said that senior managers, assistant directors and section heads should encourage conversations around the nature of bias to highlight the approach the GMC is taking to address it and make it an ordinary part of the organisation’s dialogue.
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In some teams the review found a “low-challenge” culture had developed, and little critical thought was being given to the risk of bias. Team leaders were now implementing plans to address this through training and development and the utilisation of data to “encourage professional curiosity and critical discussion”, the report said.
Improvements needed to be made to anti-bias strategies within individual teams, with all teams expressing the desire to refresh their EDI knowledge. The report recommended that managers develop anti-bias competency personal objectives and incorporate these into the professional development plans (PDPs) of decision-making staff by the second quarter of this year.
A review of the framework used for the appointment of associates is also recommended, with the report suggesting that this review should be led by HR. It should enhance the focus on fairness and make the GMC’s expectations explicit.
Other recommendations include:
- linking EDI competencies to roles and map where development can be addressed via its learning curriculums
- ensuring all relevant staff complete mandatory equality and diversity training by the end of Q1 2023
- ensuring all staff complete phase on of an EDI curriculum by the end of Q2.
GMC chief executive Charlie Massey said the organisation was already implementing many of the report’s recommendations and learning from recent cases.
“A degree of bias is inherent in human nature, and so a fundamental principle of our approach is to look for the risk of bias and to assess the controls we have in place to manage it. The recommendations in this report are key to that,” he said.
Report author Laura Harding, who has led internal reviews working at the Nursing and Midwifery Council and higher education institutions, said: “It is our responsibility to look for the risk of bias in our work and to mitigate it. I am heartened that many of the improvements we identified are already being implemented, and the GMC has made firm commitments to act on the others.
“All of us in an organisation such as the GMC make decisions, and no matter how big or small they are they each have an impact. Managing the risk of bias in those decisions is vital, and will result in fairer decisions for everyone who interacts with the GMC.”
The British Medical Association (BMA), which represents doctors, has welcomed the GMC’s acknowledgement of bias and commitment to change.
BMA equality lead Latifa Patel said: “This review acknowledges that bias in the GMC exists and needs to be systematically challenged, rather than simply looking for reassurance that it doesn’t. This change in approach is to be welcomed.
“We have been campaigning for reform of the GMC for years so it is good to see it moving away from repeatedly comforting itself that there is no evidence of bias in its decision making processes. The landmark case of Dr Karim, who the GMC was found to have racially discriminated against in an FTP case, had shown this was far from true.”
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