London: UK`s General Medical Council (GMC) is investigating fears of racial bias against foreign-trained doctors, including Indians, affecting the outcome of the general practitioners` (GPs) examination in the country.
The issue relates to a large number of Indian doctors, who fear an institutional bias may be behind them unfairly failing GP exams or receiving lower pass rates despite extensive training and knowledge.
GMC, the doctors` watchdog in the UK, has now begun an independent data review into the pass rates for internationally-trained and British-trained ethnic minority medical graduates taking the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) exams.
According to RCGP figures, the failure rate for British medical graduates of South Asian origin is 17.5 percent and for black candidates 24.4 percent, compared with 5.8 percent for white candidates.
"This is a critical examination for doctors wishing to become GPs and it is vital that doctors, patients and employers have confidence that it is both fair and robust. Where serious questions have been raised, as they have in this case, it is right that we should look at them," said Niall Dickson, chief executive of the GMC.
The review will also look at the Clinical Skills Assessment (CSA), a practical and knowledge-based test introduced in 2010 in which candidates treat decoy patients.
It takes three years to train to become a GP after gaining a degree, and in their final year medical graduates must pass the CSA before they can qualify.
RCGP figures show that 65.3 percent of foreign-trained GPs failed their first attempt at the CSA in 2011-12, compared with 9.9 percent of medical graduates who studied in the UK.
The highest failure rates taking the GP exams are for candidates trained in South Asia, with 69.4 percent of candidates failing their first attempt at the CSA.
RCGP has denied charges of bias and welcomed the review.
British International Doctors Association (BIDA) chairman Dr Sabyasachi Sarkar, had written to the GMC that "the failure rate is simply staggering".
The British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO), which represents Indian-origin doctors working in the UK, has been campaigning for a probe into the disparity in results for over two years.
"We want fairness and equal treatment for the IMG (international medical graduate) trainees. For the qualifying bodies, it should be an extremely worrying point if a large number of trainees from a particular background are failing, despite most successfully completing three years in training under supervision and actually servicing live patients," said BAPIO president Dr Ramesh Mehta, himself an examiner.
Indian doctors have been long considered the backbone of Britain`s National Health Service (NHS), with over 25,000 practicing in the UK.
"These IMGs continue to endure immense strain on their families, creating personal anxiety, stress and financial ruin, having spent tens of thousands of pounds on exam fees and courses. All this is because of unfair assessment," said BAPIO vice-president Dr Satheesh Mathew.