Older doctors are six times more likely to ‘pose a risk to patients’

 

Doctors over the age of 55 are six times more likely to prompt major concerns about their performance than their younger colleagues, a study by a former chief medical officer has found.

Older doctors, male doctors, and those working in the fields of obstetrics, gynaecology and psychiatry are the groups most likely to be referred to the National Clinical Assessment Service (NCAS), according to a study led by Professor Sir Liam Donaldson.

He told The Independent that poor practice posed “risks to patients” that could be avoided by quickly acting to retrain and rehabilitate underperforming doctors. 

The NCAS is separate to the professional regulator, the General Medical Council (GMC). It takes referrals from a doctor’s employer or contracting body, and occasionally from doctors themselves, when there are concerns that they are not meeting the minimum requirements.

Overall, 6,179 doctors were referred to the NCAS between April 2001 and March 2012. Every year five in every 1,000 NHS doctors – less than 1 per cent of the workforce – are referred, according to the study, published in BMJ Quality and Safety.

Older practitioners were more likely to suffer from ill health and were less likely to keep up with best clinical practice said Sir Liam, who retired from the post of England’s chief medical officer in 2010, and is now chair of health policy at Imperial College London.

Every year there were on average 10.5 referrals to NCAS for every 1,000 doctors over the age of 55, but only 1.8 for every 1,000 doctors under the age of 35, the study found.

Male doctors were twice as likely as female doctors to be referred to the NCAS and doctors trained overseas were also twice as likely to prompt concerns than doctors trained in the UK. Specialists in obstetrics, gynaecology and psychiatry were more than three times as likely to be referred.

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