Judge at the Royal Courts of Justice ruled that the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO), representing the Indian doctors, was right to bring the case as it would benefit the medical profession and the general public in the end. (Agencies)
"It may not be a legal success but can be seen as a moral one," the judge said.
The (BAPIO) had brought the judicial review against the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) and General Medical Council (GMC) over claims that the college's membership exam (MRCGP) discriminated against minority ethnic candidates.
All doctors must pass MRCGP to practice as GPs in UK. The BAPIO won a minor victory last year when Justice Patterson ruled that the GMC should be included in the action because of its duty as public sector body to ensure equality.
The RCGP says that differences in exam results could result from a series of factors, including the quality of undergraduate training in different countries. The BAPIO's legal fees have hit an estimated 50,000 pounds.
BAPIO's judicial review hearing marked the culmination of a seven-year battle to get the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) and General Medical Council (GMC) to acknowledge marked differences in the success rates between international medical graduates (IMGs) and non IMGs and different racial groups in the RCGP’s membership exam – which all doctors must clear to practise as GPs in UK.
While the judge declared that the MRCGP exam is lawful, he said "the time has come" for RCGP to address differentials in the pass rates between white and non-white candidates. He also concluded that South Asians as a racial group were at a disadvantage while appearing for these examinations and directed the RCGP to now act upon the recommendations of the various reviews and added that any failure to do so would leave it open to a future legal challenge.
BAPIO has also been given permission to file a request to appeal against the judgement, which is likely to be approved by the court.
"Although we are a bit disappointed by the judge's decision, we are comforted by his observations regarding this case having served a useful purpose," BAPIO president Dr Ramesh Mehta told PTI after the hearing.
"We intend to appeal and we feel that though we may have lost this battle, we have won the war. The RCGP must now take action to ensure no discrimination takes place as even the judge has accepted there is evidence of differential treatment," he added.
The doctors' charity had raised donations of around 200,000 pounds to meet its hefty legal costs. The judge also took a sympathetic view of the group's struggle and awarded a reduced sum of 50,000 pounds as costs to be paid by BAPIO as it failed to win the challenge and that sum will be divided between the RCGP and GMC.
"We have always been, and remain, concerned by this issue, and are determined to continue to work with all other interested stakeholders in both understanding it, and looking to remedy it," RCGP chair Dr Maureen Baker said.
"We agree that further action is needed, and we are already working hard to find the best way of supporting the small number of trainees who fail to pass the CSA (clinical skills assessment) component of the MRCGP licensing exam to give them every chance of passing the exam".
Studies released last year had revealed that white candidates are four times more likely to pass the exam first time than minority ethnic candidates trained in UK, and 14 times more likely than candidates trained overseas.
The judge said the reviews showed "unavoidable unconscious bias" due to the nature of the assessment, and that some of the significant differences in pass rates between racial groups could be put down to education and cultural differences.
Judge at the Royal Courts of Justice ruled that the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO), representing the Indian doctors, was right to bring the case as it would benefit the medical profession and the general public in the end.