Annual reviews and licence curbs proposed for British doctors

July 23rd, 2008 - 1:48 pm ICT by IANS  

London, July 23 (IANS) For the first time in the world, Britain is planning to conduct annual reviews of doctors to weed out poor performers and make their licences to practice renewable every five years. A report by Britain’s Chief Medical Officer Liam Donaldson, “Medical Revalidation: Principles and Next Steps”, outlines how senior doctors will be appointed to assess the competence of general practitioners (GPs) and hospital consultants in their area to ensure that patients’ lives are not being put at risk.

Inspectors will use evidence from patients’ questionnaires and feedback from colleagues. Doctors “unable to remedy significant shortfalls in their standards of practice” risk being removed from the medical register, the report says.

Critics said that it would mean doctors spending less time with patients and practising “defensive medicine”.

Trials will begin within two years. At the moment doctors face no formal reassessments of their competence, clinical skills or performance between entering independent practice as a GP or consultant and retiring. An airline pilot would be assessed about 100 times over a similar period, reports The Times.

To date, the government has only recommended to trusts that they carry out regular reviews of how doctors’ skills are progressing, based on conversations with the individual concerned. That system, according to today’s report, is “patchy and not fit for relicensing (the renewal of doctors’ licences) across the country”.

Appraisals will be considered a “continuing process” leading up to licences being reissued every five years. Medical students and those who work in short-term appointments or as locums will also face annual checks.

Graeme Catto, president of the General Medical Council (GMC), which was consulted on the idea, said that it had dealt with 5,168 complaints about doctors last year - 1,300 more than in 2000 - but only about one in three led to an investigation and fewer than five percent to a hearing. A total of 60 were struck off.

Hamish Meldum, chairman of the British Medical Association, said: “We want to see a system that is good for patients and fair to doctors. The system should not be seen as a tool to weed out the very small number of doctors who underperform - there are other processes in place to do this.”

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