Doctors in the UK are to become the first in the world to have regular assessments to ensure they are fit to practise.

The process, known as revalidation, will mean British doctors will have regular assessments to ensure that their training and expertise are up to date, and they are fit to carry out their roles. The General Medical Council, which regulates physicians in the UK, will work with employers to implement and manage the system.

Talks about revalidation have been on-going for years and has caused inevitable controversy among doctors, but the UK government is now ready to begin the process in December.

The Department of Health says this will be important in making improvements in the early diagnosis and survival from diseases such as cancer, and the better care of patients with conditions such as dementia, which is still poorly diagnosed. It will also ensure doctors are better equipped to help people with long-term conditions manage their health better, it said.

As well as keeping them up to date, revalidation will also require a doctor to tackle any concerns with skills such as communication and maintaining trust with patients – which is particularly important when caring for the increasing number of older patients that the NHS treats.

If they are not meeting these criteria, they could - in extreme circumstances - have their licenses revoked, meaning doctors will be under a lot of pressure in the coming year.

The new health secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “We want to have the best survival rates in Europe for the major killer diseases. Doctors save lives every day and making sure they are up to speed with the latest treatments and technologies will help them save even more. This is why a proper system of revalidation is so important.” 

“The government is also proposing that in future, there is one national list of general practice doctors, dentists and ophthalmologists approved to provide NHS primary care services.

“It is right that information about a doctor moves with them around the country as they do.  By introducing a single national performers list, poor performers will no longer be able to slip through the gaps between different local lists.”

At the moment, each of the 151 Primary Care Trusts keeps individual local lists of clinicians – which means if a poorly performing doctor is removed from one list, they can move to a different area and keep practicing.  

Hunt added that a national list will ensure patients are “better protected from the small minority of doctors, dentists and ophthalmologists who fall short of the standards expected of them”.

Transition for doctors

Medical revalidation will normally happen every five years and will apply to all doctors in all settings in the UK - including doctors working as locums and in the private sector. Doctors will undergo annual appraisals based on the requirements of the GMC’s core guidance called ‘Good Medical Practice’.