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Disabled student wins right to take the General Medical Council to tribunal

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In a landmark ruling, a disabled student has won the right to take the General Medical Council (GMC) to an employment tribunal for not allowing her to complete her medical training. Heidi Cox’s case is being taken by the Disability Law Service and backed by the Disability Rights Commission (DRC).

The London Employment Tribunal has ruled that the General Medical Council is covered by the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA) as a trade organisation and so Heidi can take a case of discrimination.

In 1992, during her first year of medical training, Heidi Cox was involved in an accident and had to leave her course. Since 1993 she has been a wheelchair user. Heidi has gone on to complete a MSc and this year gained a first class honours degree in Pathobiology.

Heidi decided to resume her medical training, with the ultimate aim of becoming a pathologist, and in October 1999 Heidi applied to study medicine at Oxford University. Her case was referred to the GMC, who are responsible for the registration of doctors. The GMC turned down her request stating that it would not be possible to approve specially adapted medical training for someone who is disabled from the outset.

Bert Massie, Chair of the Disability Rights Commission, said: “It is amazing that despite the shortage of doctors, a clever and dedicated young woman has been stopped from pursuing her career because of the rigid and discriminatory policies of the GMC. The GMC should look to the example of other countries where disabled doctors qualify every year.”

Bela Gor, Solicitor at the Disability Law Service, said: “The GMC has tried to defend itself on the basis that the DDA did not apply. The tribunal held that the DDA does apply to the GMC because it is a trade organisation and so must not discriminate against disabled people. The GMC should now look beyond the legal arguments to how it can welcome disabled people to the medical profession at a time when doctors are in short supply.”

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