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Refusal to offer disabled doctors additional exam attempts ‘unlawful’

Life at Work
By Tim Tonkin

Royal College of GPs branded ‘irrational’ by BMA on its membership stance

The Royal College of GPs’ refusal to grant additional exam attempts to disabled doctors is ‘irrational and unlawful’, a court has heard.

The failure to provide additional attempts to GP trainees who have been diagnosed with a disability after an unsuccessful examination attempt is discriminatory, lawyers for the BMA have argued today in a two-day hearing at the High Court in London.

The legal challenge comes after long-standing efforts by the association to persuade the RCGP to revise its exams policies as they relate to disabled doctors, with the outcome likely to affect other royal medical colleges with similar policies.

The college’s rules do not allow candidates, who are later diagnosed with a disability that would have entitled them to reasonable adjustments (had they known about their disability at the time of the exam), to receive additional attempts or have previous unsuccessful exam attempts cancelled out.

The BMA has argued the policy breaches the public sector equality duty and fails to meet legal requirements set out under the Equality Act 2010, and disadvantages doctors who receive a late diagnosis of disability by limiting the number of fair attempts available to them.

Available resits

In August last year, the college changed part of its rules on exam attempts by increasing the number of attempts available to doctors entering GP training on or after 2 August 2023 from four to six on the applied knowledge test and simulated consultation assessment.

The BMA’s own policy on disability and exams states doctors who are found to have disabilities following examination attempts are entitled to an equal number of fair attempts as granted to other doctors.

Following lobbying by the association, the AoMRC (Academy of Medical Royal Colleges) produced new guidance in 2023, which states royal medical colleges should consider granting additional attempts to candidates for whom a later diagnosis of disability was ‘likely to have affected all previous [examination] attempts'.

In December last year, the association’s GP registrars committee wrote an open letter to RCGP chair Kamila Hawthorne urging her to amend the college's policies in line with the AoMRC’s recommendations.

In presenting its case to the High Court, the association’s legal team has labelled the RCGP’s ‘point-blank refusal’ to cancel out previous unsuccessful exam attempts as ‘unreasonable and perverse’ and a ‘deliberate decision not to treat disabled candidates fairly.’

The hearing will conclude tomorrow, with a ruling by the court not expected until later this year.

For more information on the BMA’s case please click here