“Success rates are so poor that the medical associations want doctors to be allowed six attempts at passing the tests rather than the current four,” The Mail on Sunday reported.
The findings raise fears that trainee medics, mainly from India, Pakistan and Nigeria, are not suitably qualified to treat patients despite spending three years working for the National Health Service (NHS) before taking the exam.
Until they pass the exams, which qualify them to practise independently as hospital physicians or GPs, trainees continue to see patients — under supervision — in placements at hospitals and general practitioner (GP) surgeries.
However, figures show foreign doctors are substantially more likely to fail than UK graduates, with communication cited as one of the problems.
Foreign medical associations are now demanding that doctors be given two additional opportunities to pass the tests amid claims that examiners may be discriminating against non-UK graduates, the report said. But their claims have been refuted by leading UK specialists who say a recent study showed “no substantial effects of gender or ethnicity on examiner/candidate interactions”, and that passing the exams is dependent on having the appropriate skills.
“This is scandalous. If a doctor can go on failing, they shouldn’t be treating patients in NHS,” Joyce Robins, co-director of campaign group Patient Concern, said.
“There has to be a cut-off point and four attempts is only too many,” he said.
Of the Indian doctors taking the test, 63 per cent failed at the first attempt. For those from Pakistan, there was a 62 per cent failure rate, while 68 per cent of Nigerian doctors failed at the first try.
“There is a very robust system of selection to get on to NHS training in the first place,” Dr Ramesh Mehta, president of The British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO), saying the exam system was “faulty”.