General Medical Council says it is a “doctor’s duty” to report unfit drivers to DVLA
New draft guidance from the General Medical Council (GMC) says that doctors are duty-bound to notify the DVLA if a patient continues to drive a vehicle against medical advice as patient confidentiality declared "not absolute".
The proposal forms the basis for public consultation on the GMC’s patient confidentiality guidance, which intends to offer increased clarity for doctors on how to balance both legal and ethical duties of confidentiality with their duty toward the protection of the wider public.
Feedback from doctors has revealed that many feel anxious that they will face criticism for disclosing such information, however the GMC says in a statement that confidentiality is “not absolute” and doctors should disclose information if “it is necessary to protect individuals or the wider public from risks of death or serious harm – whether that is from violent crime, serious communicable diseases, or the risks posed by patients who are not fit to drive”.
It adds that doctors should contact the DVLA without patient consent but only as a last resort, when efforts to encourage the patient to act responsibly and self-report, have failed.
The guidance also urges doctors to “keep the patient’s ability to drive safely at the forefront of their minds” when diagnosing conditions and offering treatment.
Niall Dickson, Chief Executive of the General Medical Council, says: “Doctors often find themselves in challenging situations. This is difficult territory – most patients will do the sensible thing but the truth is that a few will not and may not have the insight to realise that they are a risk to others behind the wheel of a car.
“A confidential medical service is a public good and trust is an essential part of the doctor-patient relationship. But confidentiality is not absolute and doctors can play an important part in keeping the wider public safe if a patient is not safe to drive.
He adds: “We are clear that doctors carrying out their duty will not face any sanction - and this new guidance makes clear that we will support those who are faced with these difficult decisions.”
Dr Maureen Baker, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, says: "Where possible we try to leave the responsibility for reporting unfitness to drive in the hands of the patient.
"But we do follow-up on recommendations we make and in some cases, if a patient hasn't self-reported, we do take this step on their behalf."
“Fear around losing their license”
Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, says: “Thirty-seven million drivers depend on the car for getting about and for those with serious medical conditions there is a real fear around losing their license. But with the right treatment many illnesses will not lead to people having to hang up the keys. The worst thing motorists can do is ignore medical advice.
He adds: “Depriving someone of their ability to drive can create its own set of social and health issues and doctors will take reasonable steps to help keep people mobile though not at the cost of endangering the wider public. Ultimately the way forward must be for doctor and patient to work together rather than in isolation.”
Road safety experts say the weight of medical opinion could help convince those that are unfit drivers to stay off the road. Neil Greig, director of policy and research at the Institute of Advanced Motorists says: "Clarifying the role of GPs is a very positive road safety move.
"Our research shows that drivers are much more likely to listen to a medical professional giving them advice about giving up driving than to their friends or family."
Have your say
The GMC have launched a questionnaire, available on the GMC website, in order to consider the views of both patients and doctors. The consultation on confidentiality, which includes the issue of reporting concerns to the DVLA, runs to February 10, 2016 with the final guidance expected in late 2016.
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