When you visit a doctor you take for granted that they are versed on the latest diagnostic techniques and treatments. However, doctors will now have to actually prove that they are maintaining their professional development. Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, has announced that every year doctors will be assessed; on top of this they will undergo a more rigorous assessment every five years. The idea of the revalidation of doctors started in 2000 after numerous medical errors – such as the deaths of babies operated on for heart conditions at the Bristol Royal Infirmary and the disgraced gynaecologist Rodney Ledward who botched 400 operations – left the public concerned about the competence of doctors; they had previously assumed that checks were carried out, but even annual appraisals do not always happen. Despite delays as a result of negotiations with the British Medical Association, the revalidation process is now ready to begin, which is hoped will inspire public confidence within the profession once again.

The revalidation process

What has been described as “the biggest change in medical regulation for more than 150 years” will be overseen by the General Medical Council. A pilot study of 3000 doctors highlighted concerns in around 1% of those sampled. In December doctors’ leaders will be under scrutiny then from April all doctors will be assessed. Doctors will be required to gather a portfolio of evidence of their continuing competence, which will include their yearly assessment and surveys completed by patients. If this seems like a daunting task to them, support and advice is at hand; the General Medical Council is providing information on preparing for revalidation and examples of supporting evidence to gather.

Not the perfect solution

There is no denying that the majority of doctors already offer an excellent standard of care to their patients, but doctors may see revalidation as a laborious task, which merely adds to their already high workload. However, the revalidation process is certainly one way to encourage doctors to ensure their clinical knowledge and skills are kept up to date and to work towards consistent medical practice across the country. That said revalidation cannot necessarily prevent another Harold Shipman; while it has the potential to flag up concerns sooner, it is unable to provide complete certainty that safe care is provided. An incompetent or unsafe practitioner would still know what was required of them so could gather the necessary evidence to pass the test.

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