Doctors working within the NHS are more likely to face harsher punishments from disciplinary hearings if they earned their qualifications abroad, it has been revealed.
Data from hearings conducted by the General Medical Council (GMC) has been analysed, and show that doctors from overseas experience tougher sanctions compared with those who qualified in the UK.
The reasons for the differences are not clear, with suggestions that doctors from abroad make a higher number of mistakes and are not as competent, or because panels come down harder on them.
Different research found that concerns about doctors are twice as likely to be related to those who have graduated overseas rather than those who qualified in the UK.
Some of the highest rates of worries are about non-white doctors who gain their medical qualifications overseas; they are also more likely to be suspended.
Among GPs, those who qualified outside Europe are almost four times as likely to generate concerns as those who graduate in the UK, and are six times more likely to be suspended.
Experts from the NHS-funded National Clinical Assessment Service (NCAS) analysed about 5,600 complaints over the last nine years, including 900 from 2009/10.
In the study, led by Professor Charlotte Humphrey from King's College London, experts found that GMC decisions about doctors who qualified outside the UK are more likely to have far-reaching consequences.
They said perhaps "real differences exist in fitness to practise between groups of doctors who are referred to the GMC" or "the GMC processes tend to discriminate against certain groups of doctors".
However, the authors said either conclusion may not be the right one and called for further research.
The research was published online in the British Medical Journal (BMJ).
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