British court backs Indian doctors` exam bias fight
London: A group representing Indian-origin doctors in Britain has won a minor victory in its legal battle against suspected racial bias within the country`s medical examination system.
The British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO) appeared in the High Court here on Friday and won the right to widen the scope of its judicial review to include the General Medical Council (GMC) over the fairness of the clinical skills assessment (CSA) element of ‘Membership of the Royal College of General Practitioners’ (MRCGP) exams.
The exams have to be cleared by trainee doctors to qualify as medical practitioners and BAPIO had raised concerns over consistently high failures rates among black and minority ethnic (BME) trainees for years.
While it had won the right to question the RCGP on the issue, it wanted to include the GMC in the case as the regulatory body in charge of medical education and training in the UK.
"This was an extremely important ruling, now the case will proceed to a full judicial review and our legal team is very confident of proving its point in court. This is great news for those campaigning for equality and fairness led by BAPIO," BAPIO said in a statement.
The judge Justice Patterson ruled that the GMC should be included in the action because of its duty as a public sector body to ensure equality.
She said that it was "arguable" that the GMC had failed to ensure equality. But she said the regulator would not have to answer claims of direct or indirect discrimination.
The RCGP, however, will face discrimination claims when the judicial review is heard in February or March 2014.
GMC acting chief executive, Paul Philip, said: "We accept today`s decision by Mrs Justice Patterson to give limited permission to include the GMC within the scope of the judicial review. This permission relates solely to public sector equality duty. We will look carefully at the judge`s order. We will not be commenting further on this ahead of the hearing."
The Clinical Skills Assessment (CSA) - introduced in 2010 - is a practical test in which trainee GPs are assessed by an examiner while they treat actors in a mock-surgery setting.
They have four attempts to take the test which they must pass before they can practise as a general practitioners (GP).
During a recent six-month review for the GMC, leading academic and GP Professor Aneez Esmail analysed data on more than 5,000 candidates who sat for the CSA exam over a two-year period and found that he could not entirely exclude racial discrimination.
"Many of us who work in this area describe the problem of unconscious bias. So I think that`s what may be happening, especially with the white British graduates compared to the ethnic minority British graduates, is that - without realising it even perhaps - they may be assessing it in a different way," he told the BBC.
His review also found that trainee GPs from abroad, for instance countries like India, were 14 times more likely to fail the CSA exam than white British doctors.
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