ONE of Britain’s most eminent consultants has claimed white male doctors are being denied bonuses because of politically correct “reverse discrimination” by the National Health Service.
David Rosin, a former vice-president of the Royal College of Surgeons, says female and ethnic minority consultants are being given preferential treatment to meet artificial quotas.
Rosin, also a former president of the Association for Cancer Surgery, failed to get the top “platinum award” award 10 years in a row despite being backed in his application by the royal college and his NHS trust.
He said: “When I asked a previous president [of the Royal College of Surgeons] why I had been unsuccessful, the answer came back immediately: ‘What do you expect? You are not black, you are not female and you have all four limbs.’ ”
Rosin’s comments are likely to provoke a row about whether policies to promote equal opportunities in the NHS have led to positive discrimination. Figures show a dramatic increase in the number of women and ethnic minorities winning merit awards over the past five years. They can add up to £73,000 to a consultant’s annual salary of about £112,000.
Ministers and NHS chiefs have been encouraging more women and ethnic minorities to apply. Supporters say that in the past the vast majority of the extra payments went to an “old boys’ network” of sometimes “mediocre” white male consultants.
However, Rosin, who retired from his NHS post as a senior consultant surgeon at St Mary’s NHS Trust hospital, London, in June, believes it has now tipped into positive discrimination.
“It is time that someone spoke up concerning the reverse discrimination with respect to merit awards,” he wrote in a letter to the magazine Hospital Doctor. “In the politically correct environment in which we live, there is now definitely reverse discrimination.”
He was incredulous at his failure to get a platinum award, despite being editor of an international medical journal, editing 16 textbooks and publishing more than 100 peer-reviewed medical papers.
He said he was also on call for the NHS every second night for his first 14 years as a consultant and helped to introduce a new form of cancer surgery clinic and many new minimal access surgical techniques.
Rosin was supported by a council member of one of the royal medical colleges, who, asking to remain anonymous, said: “As in any situation where people are trying to correct what is perceived as a wrong in the past, an element of bias will be introduced. The feedback one hears from these committees is that, where there is a fine balance between two candidates, then there will be a willingness to recognise the merits of someone who has been previously disadvantaged.”
About half of Britain’s 33,000 consultants receive an award at some level, ranging from £2,850 to £73,158. The scheme costs the NHS at least £250m a year.
Aneez Esmail, professor of general practice at Manchester University, whose research in 1998 showed how few women and ethnic minority consultants got the awards, denied that standards had been compromised.
“More women and ethnic minorities are successful but the actual standards are not compromised,” he said. “Previously, mediocre white candidates were getting awards and you really had to be quite exceptional as a woman or ethnic minority to get an award. With more transparency and clear criteria there is greater competition and more women and ethnic minorities are successful. People like Mr Rosin may lose out.”
His 1998 research, published in the British Medical Journal, showed that white consultants were given 95% of bonuses despite making up just 74% of the eligible consultant workforce. Nonwhite consultants earned just 5% of bonuses despite making up 14% of the eligible consultant workforce.
A follow-up paper in 2000-2001 found that white consultants received 37% more bonuses than nonwhite consultants and men gained 25% more bonuses than women. However, this year’s data, released by the health department, show that the percentage of women applicants succeeding in getting bronze awards, worth about £34,000 on top of their annual salary, is now equal to that of men.
Doctors would not be expected to apply for the four top awards until they had been consultants for a decade. Women taking breaks to have children have therefore been less likely to apply.
As many British Indian consultants as white British consultants are also now being awarded the first level of bonus, worth £2,850.
Professor Hamid Ghodse, medical director of the committee which decides on who gets awards, acknowledged that it had actively been trying to get more women and ethnic minority consultants to apply for bonuses – and would continue to do so