Call to end 'discriminatory' exams policy for disabled doctors

by Tim Tonkin

BMA urges Royal College of GPs to revise stance on attempts at tests after diagnoses

Location: UK
Published: Wednesday 20 December 2023
42441 man in wheelchair

The Royal College of GPs’ must end its ‘unreasonable and discriminatory’ examination attempts policies towards disabled doctors, the BMA has warned.

The association is urging the RCGP to change its rules on exams, specifically in relation to additional attempts and reasonable adjustments granted to doctors who receive a diagnosis of disability following an examination.

Under its policy, the RCGP does not permit additional retakes to registrars who would have qualified for reasonable adjustments to the exams process had their disability been recognised prior to original sitting.

In an open letter to RCGP chair Kamila Hawthorne published on 20 December, BMA GP registrars committee chair Malinga Ratwatte and co-chair Elliott Philips called on the college to adapt its policies in line with guidance set out by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges last month on 2 November.

With the BMA is supporting a number of legal challenges relating to  disabled doctors who are unfairly affected by restrictions on exam, Dr Ratwatte and Dr Philips wrote that ‘the principle of fairness for all exam candidates should not be controversial’.


Fair treatment

They said: ‘The GP registrars committee believes all candidates for RCGP examinations should be entitled to fair treatment and the BMA is aware of several cases where the policy has had a potentially devastating impact on individuals with a disability.

‘The college applies a rigid policy, which means registrars who receive a late diagnosis of their disability do not get the same number of fair exam attempts as other registrars.

‘This is because the college does not allow any extra examination attempts where a candidate was diagnosed with a disability after one or more attempt, and would have been entitled to reasonable adjustments (such as extra time) had they known about their condition and been able to obtain a formal diagnosis before their attempt(s).’ 

They added: ‘The BMA is proud to support our disabled colleagues and will continue our pursuit of fairness in attempts policies until all candidates can access the same number of fair attempts in their examinations.

‘It is abundantly clear to the GP registrar’s committee that the RCGP’s policy is unreasonable and discriminatory by unjustifiably disadvantaging disabled doctors wishing to become GPs simply because they weren’t aware of their condition earlier. This cannot be right – urgent change is needed.’


Equal attempts

BMA policy states that doctors receiving a diagnosis of disability following an exam should be entitled to an equal number of fair attempts as granted to other doctors.

Earlier this year, the association wrote to UK medical colleges and the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges calling for a consistent and fair approach across medical examinations.

The BMA welcomed guidance subsequently published by the AoMRC which states colleges provided with ‘new information on a diagnosis of a disability which is likely to have affected all previous [exam] attempts’ should offer candidates the full number of retake attempts.

In an effort to understand the extent to which the RCGP’s exam attempts policy may have adversely affected disabled doctors and to assist with legal challenges, the BMA is now urging current or former GP registrars to complete an online survey about their experiences.

Read the BMA’s letter