The Commission for Racial Equality has been asked to investigate why Asian GPs appear to be involved in most of the performance procedures carried out in Greater Manchester.

A straw poll carried out by the Small Practices Association found 29 GPs are undergoing performance procedures in five health authority areas. Of these, three are white and the rest Asian.

Dr Michael Taylor, honorary secretary of the SPA, has referred the statistics to the commission and is awaiting a response.

The British Medical Association's GP committee has agreed to write to every local medical committee to establish how many doctors are being investigated by HAs and what proportion are from ethnic backgrounds.

In Dr Harold Shipman's HA, West Pennine, four out of the five GPs who are the subject of performance procedures are Asian. In neighbouring Manchester HA, the figure is 15 out of 16.

Dr Taylor's concerns are shared by the Overseas Doctors Association. But Manchester HA insisted its performance panel did not discriminate against Asian doctors.

Head of communications Ian Rhodes said: 'We would say categorically no. I would completely refute any suggestion that this is a form of racism.

'We were aware that it could be made to appear that way. This was one of the first things we said back in 1997 when we asked the ODA to be part of the performance panel.'

But he said the ODA had 'declined' to be on the panel made up of four GPs, four lay members and four HA members.

The HA looked for 'patterns of concerns' rather than individual complaints, Mr Rhodes added.