Doctors to be Tested Every 5 Years

Topics covered: Ridouts professional advice

From December 2012 regular checks on doctors’ skills will take place. This is a significant shake-up in medical regulation for more than 150 years.

220,000 UK doctors will have annual appraisals, with a decision taken every five years on whether they are fit to practice. However, it will be April 2016 before the vast majority of the first round of checks have been completed.

The health secretary Jeremy Hunt believes such appraisals will address “deficiencies” in skills. He said that if doctors failed to satisfy General Medical Council (GMC) standards they would not be allowed to practice. He said the new system would identify “gaps” in knowledge or skills and would give doctors a “chance to put those issues right“.

Mr Hunt said most doctors “do a brilliant job” but when the government carried out a survey last year of 300 health bodies there were “serious concerns” with 0.7% of doctors. He went on to say, “at the end of the day if the GMC is not satisfied that someone is up to speed then, yes, they will be prevented from practising“.

He said this would give the public confidence that the UK had the most thorough regulatory process for its 175,000 doctors.

The new system comes after years of discussions about the way doctors are monitored. At the moment there are no mandatory checks on the performance of individual doctors, a situation which has been compared unfavourably to the airline industry where pilots face regular, on-going assessment.

The new system

  • Revalidation by the General Medical Council will take place every five years.
  • It will run separately to the GMC’s disciplinary regime that can lead to a doctor being struck off the medical register.
  • A decision on whether or not to allow a doctor to continue to practise will be based on annual appraisals and feedback from patients and colleagues.
  • It will be up to responsible officers in each organisation, normally medical directors, to make a recommendation to the GMC.
  • Minor issues may lead to revalidation being deferred for a short period while the problems are addressed.
  • Something that constitutes a risk to safety would lead to revalidation being rejected. The doctor would then not be allowed to work.
  • The revalidation process will start in December for senior medical leaders, including national and regional medical directors.
  • From April it will be rolled out among the general doctor population and within 12 months a fifth of doctors should have been through the process.
  • By April 2016 the “vast majority” of medics should have been checked.

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