Sally Bridges, senior researcher in the Health & Wellbeing team at NatCen Social Research, discusses the findings of new research commissioned by the GMC into doctors’ perceptions of the regulator.

The GMC is the independent regulator for doctors in the UK whose purpose is to protect, promote and maintain the health and safety of the public by ensuring proper standards in the practice of medicine. Fairness in the way it does this is really important. So, do doctors think the GMC does its job fairly? And do all doctors have the same views? In particular, does where a doctor qualified and what their ethnic group is affect their views of fairness?

Fairness and the GMC-Doctors views-2

To find out, we carried out a survey of almost 3,500 doctors who were randomly sampled from the GMC’s register. The survey was developed following a series of in depth focus groups and interviews with doctors so we were confident that we were asking about the right issues. As well as general confidence in the GMC, we asked doctors to tell us their views about fairness when:

  • applying to join the register,
  • going through revalidation – a process that asks doctors to demonstrate their practice is up to date,
  • a doctor’s fitness to practise is questioned.

So what did doctors think? Well, on the whole most were confident in way the GMC regulates doctors (79%) and the way the GMC protects the health and safety of the public (85%). And confidence in both of these aspects was highest among Black and Minority ethnic group (BME) doctors and those who qualified outside of the UK.

But what about fairness? Well we found that, overall, most doctors thought the GMC carries out the core functions we asked about fairly for the majority of doctors. But, there were differences in perceptions when we looked more closely and compared the views of BME doctors with white doctors and the views of non-UK qualified doctors with UK qualified doctors. BME doctors and non-UK qualified doctors were more likely to worry about fairness and thought that other BME doctors and non-UK qualified doctors may be more likely to experience unfairness.

Some positive news for the GMC is that perceptions are also changing it seems, with more than a quarter of doctors (28%) saying they thought fitness to practise proceedings were more fair now than they were five years ago – and this view was highest among BME and non-UK qualified doctors.

So, on the whole confidence and support for the GMC’s principles appears to be good. This is especially the case among BME doctors and those who are non-UK qualified. Yet, it is these groups of doctors that feel most at risk of being treated unfairly. These findings and other results from our research will help the GMC carry out further work in this area to ensure its functions and processes are as fair as possible for all doctors.

Sally Bridges is a senior researcher in the Health and Wellbeing team at NatCen Social Research. NatCen is Britain’s largest independent social research organisation and carries out high quality research for a range of clients including government departments, academic institutions and the third sector. You can find out more about NatCen on their website.