Doctors urged to inform DVLA of unfit drivers

The General Medical Council strengthens guidelines on duty of doctors to inform the DVLA of patients who they consider to be unfit to drive.

The new guidelines, issued last week by the UK’s General Medical Council (GMC), places increased emphasis on the duty which already exists in the medical community for doctors to provide information to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA) in Great Britain or the DVA in Northern Ireland of any patient who is considered unfit to drive due to health reasons and who has failed to act on their own behalf.

According to the guidelines, which are still at the draft stage, doctors should report patients who continue to drive despite being advised against it for medical reasons if they believe it might leave someone at risk of death or serious harm. Currently, the onus of responsibility is on the driver to inform the DVLA of any relevant medical condition. Drivers who fail to inform the DVLA face penalties of up to £1000 if they fail to do so.

The move from the GMC has been welcomed by the road safety charity, Brake. The organisation considers it a positive move which sets out to make the duties and responsibilities of doctors and patients more clear.

Speaking on behalf of Brake, the organisation’s Gary Rae told us, “I would appeal to all drivers to declare any medical conditions that could prevent them from driving safely to the DVLA/DVA. If they fail to do so, they will pose a continuing risk to themselves and other road users.”

The medical community is split in its acceptance of the new guidelines as the provision of patient information to bodies such as the DVLA has always placed doctors in a difficult position regarding the ethics surrounding patient confidentiality breaches. The new guidelines go in some way towards alleviating these difficulties by making it clear that this kind of confidentiality shouldn’t be considered as an “absolute”.

On this issue, the GMC’s Chief Executive, Niall Dickson said, “We are clear that doctors carrying out their duty will not face any sanctions and this new guidance makes clear that we will support those who are faced with these difficult decisions.”

The UK’s Freight Transport Association (FTA) also supports the new guidelines as a step in the right direction but believes that they don’t go far enough since health has been a contributory factor in a number of incidents in the freight industry and the FTA would like transport operators to also have access to medical information that relates to their drivers’ fitness to operate a vehicle.

According to the FTA’s Ian Gallagher, employers are completely reliant on the individual to notify them that they have a medical condition and have no right to access medical records.

“The GMC guidelines don’t go far enough.  We need a process that involves the employers that provides access to necessary medical information which could ultimately save lives”, Ian Gallagher said.

The notion of employer access to medical decisions was brought up by the FTA at a round table meeting it held last week with the Department for Transport (DfT) which was attended by the FTA’s Chief Executive, David Wells, and the Transport Minister, Lord Ahmad. Commenting on the meeting, David Wells said, “I have urged the DfT to consider ways of speeding up the process for employers to have better access to medical information so they can manage the risk to all road users appropriately. The industry takes this seriously and needs appropriate tools to manage drivers while respecting individuals’ privacy and data.”

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Human Factors

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