Doctors to face yearly assessments

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Doctors will face annual assessments so licences can be removed from poor performers, under proposals to be outlined by the Chief Medical Officer today.

GPs, hospital consultants and private practitioners will also have to renew their licences every five years under plans to be announced by Sir Liam Donaldson.

He will call for senior doctors to assess others who are practising in their area to ensure they are not putting patients at risk.

Patients will also be asked for their feedback during the assessment process.

Sir Liam's report, Medical Revalidation: Principle and Next Steps, will also suggest steps to ensure that doctors keep up to date with medical advances.

The annual assessments will look at prescribing habits, adequate assessment of a patient's condition and any personal issues which might affect their work, like a problem with drugs of alcohol.

Harold Shipman, the GP who murdered at least 215 victims by giving lethal morphine injections between 1975 and 1998, was addicted to the painkiller pethidine and was convicted of prescribing it for personal use.

He also unlawfully acquired the diamorphine he used to kill.

He was convicted in January 2000 of murdering 15 of his patients and jailed for life but hanged himself from his cell window at Wakefield Prison in January 2004.

Today's report is expected to say that regular assessment would raise standards among the 150,000 doctors practising in Britain rather than being a way to discipline those who do cause concern.

The General Medical Council (GMC) has been discussing the revalidation of doctors for almost a decade and has considered the Shipman case in its discussions.

It was part of the working group which created today's report.

At its annual staff and associate specialist conference last month, the British Medical Association said legislation is expected early next year to allow it to introduce licensing later in 2009.

A government White Paper published in February 2007 set out a programme of reform for the regulation of health professionals.

Dr Hamish Meldrum, chairman of the BMA, said he was "anxious" to see the system would be proportionate and wouldn't take doctors "unduly away from their patients".

"We support the idea that doctors should be looking to improve themselves and in fact are already doing something along those lines already," he said on BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"It has to proportionate and we cannot have doctors spending hours and days on end both preparing for and undergoing this.

"Equally, patients want to be reassured and doctors want to reassure patients that they are keeping up to date."

Asked if the assessments would pick up another Harold Shipman, Dr Meldrum said: "We hope that Harold Shipman was a one-off terrible person. He was a criminal, he wasn't necessarily a badly performing doctor in the sense of his clinical practice being good but he was a murderer.

"We are not really devising a system purely to pick up murderers, we are trying to do a system that for the majority of doctors, helps them to improve their practice.

"It may help to identify those who are poorly performing...but we would be totally wrong if we thought this system was all being done to pick up another Harold Shipman."