General Medical Council discriminated against doctor because of his race

Dr Omer Karim

An employment tribunal has ruled that the General Medical Council, which regulates the medical profession, discriminated against a doctor because of his race.

The Reading Employment Tribunal upheld the complaints made by Consultant Urologist Omer Karim who is mixed race and Muslim.

Dr Karim, who worked at Wexham Park Hospital in Slough, Berkshire, said he was discriminated against during a GMC investigation after the same charges against a white doctor were dismissed.

The tribunal heard Dr Karim was an internationally renowned urologist who had been a whistleblower in a case about surgeons performing operations without appropriate training.

In 2013 Dr Karim and other doctors at the hospital raised concerns with the Care Quality Commission that ethnic minority doctors were being subjected to workplace bullying and, although the matter was referred to the GMC, no action was taken.

Also in 2013 the GMC received allegations of concern against Dr Karim but they were deemed not to meet the required threshold and were closed with no further action.

In October 2014 the GMC received a copy of an external review commissioned by the Trust into the operation of the Urology Department. The Trust had excluded Mr Karim, among others, in July 2014, while that investigation was being carried out. Dr Karim was reinstated two weeks after its conclusion.

But a further investigation was then commissioned after which Dr Karim was again suspended by the Trust in January 2015 and never returned to work at the Trust, having resigned in May 2015. In the meantime, the Trust had referred Mr Karim to the GMC.

In March 2015 the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service imposed restrictions on Dr Karim’s practice pending the outcome of the GMC’s investigation. These restrictions had life-changing consequences on his surgical practice.

Wexham Park Hospital in Slough. Editorial credit: Abdul N Quraishi – Abs

It was not until August 2015 that the restrictions on Dr Karim’s practice were lifted. His case was then referred to a full hearing before the Medical Practitioners Tribunal but not until some three years later. None of the allegations put against Dr Karim related to his clinical performance or his competence.

The Fitness to Practice hearing took place in April 2018 and Dr Karim’s evidence was accepted in full, and he was found not to have committed any act of misconduct at all.

The Reading Tribunal came to the following conclusions:

  • Dr Karim was honest and credible.
  • There was less favourable treatment of Dr Karim as compared to a white doctor.
  • The GMC continued the investigation against Dr Karim when the investigation into the white doctor was terminated and referred back to the Trust.
  • There was a significant delay of some four years in the GMC’s handling of Dr Karim’s case which was not necessary for justice to be done.

Dr Omer Karim said: “I sincerely hope that this judgment helps all doctors and the families of those doctors who are unfairly referred to the regulator. I believe that the GMC has a callous disregard for the truth and honesty. The GMC knew that I was a whistleblower yet, the GMC falsely constructed a case to only included evidence that helped their agenda to prosecute me. Right from the outset, the GMC saw me as a guilty black doctor and withheld evidence that could have proven my innocence.

“There is an unhealthy relationship between a dishonest NHS Trust and the GMC. We doctors need to work to change the system as, in its present form, it is corrupt and clearly unfit for purpose… My thoughts are with those families of doctors who committed suicide while being unfairly prosecuted by the GMC.”

Shazia Khan, of Cole Khan Solicitors LLP, added: “This is a landmark victory for my client. The GMC has longstanding documented form on discrimination. The GMC’s own statistics demonstrate that BME doctors referred to the GMC are more likely to be subject to a full investigation by the GMC.

“During 2014-17, 41.8% of BME doctors overall referred were subject to a full investigation as compared to 30.3% in the case of white doctors. In the same period, 45.5% of complaints against BME doctors overall were closed immediately as compared to 58% of white doctors. BME doctors are also more likely to experience harsher outcomes…

“We are calling for an urgent root and branch reform of the Fitness to Practice processes to address the over-prosecution of black and minority doctors. Whilst my client is grateful to the Employment Tribunal for its judgment, it has taken a painful 4 years and significant time and resources to get to this place. My concern remains for those black and minority doctors whose careers and livelihoods have ended due to the discriminatory investigations and prosecutions of them by their regulator.”

The GMC has decided to appeal the judgement.

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