February 3, 2011 • 10:56 am

“Now a mere 37 per cent of NHS doctors are white British” Daily Express 3 February 2010

The Express today cite a General Medical Council survey in which, apparently, ‘only 37 per cent of the 240,000 medical register declared themselves as White British’.

These “astonishing new figures” are linked to wider warnings about the threat of foreign-trained medics to patient’s lives.

Actually these “new” figures come from a monthly survey from the GMC. The results were last updated on 10 January.

On closer inspection, however, it also seems the Express have understated the proportion of White British doctors.

The GMC explained to Full Fact that the Express’ representation of the data had the potential to mislead readers.

We were told the survey should not be made without drawing attention to the fact that a number of respondents included in the total number surveyed by ethnic origin classified their ethnicity as ‘not stated’ or ‘unspecified’.

Whereas 89,402 of the 239,309 surveyed did state their ethnicity as White British (the 37 per cent figure used by the Express), 56,123, approximately 23.5 per cent of responses, were classed as ‘Unspecified’ and a further 6,110, or 2.6 per cent of the total, did not state their ethnicity at all.

For the claim that “one in three is now classed as White British” to be true, none of the more than 60,000 unclear responses would be from doctors who would otherwise class themselves White British.

If we subtract from the total number surveyed by ethnic origin those who declined to state or specify their ethnicity on both counts, we can get a more meaningful picture of the proportion of White British registered doctors.

Out of 177,076 in the sample who stated their ethnicity, therefore, the White British proportion is 50.5 per cent.

Likewise, the suggestion that the figures are the result of “an influx of foreign workers” ignores the point that the statistics cover ethnicity, not nationality.

Conclusion

By once again inaccurately presenting the figures, Daily Express readers have not only been given a skewed impression of the ethnicity of doctors working in this country but the General Medical Council have been drawn into an argument based on misinterpreted data.
 

UPDATE: The NHS Information Centre also collects some information on the ethnicity of staff.

While not proving an exact match for the survey data from the GMC, we were told that the data on ethnicity of medical and dental staff was the most relevant data for these purposes..

The figures, published in March 2010, exclude doctors working at GP practices so should not be taken as complete. The numbers also break the white category into ‘British’, ‘Irish’ and ‘other’ as the GMC survey does.

Nevertheless, the figures in Table 10 show that out of 102,704 staff, 56,312 were classed as white. Excluding the 7,940 whose ethnicity was not stated, the proportion of white medical and dental staff is almost 60 per cent.

Further reason, if more were needed, to treat the Express headline with caution.

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