Answering your questions about our consultation on the medical register

Jo Wren, the GMC’s Lead Regional Liaison Adviser (RLA) for the South of England, answers the most frequently asked questions she’s heard about proposed changes to the medical register. 

Across the country, my colleagues and I have been speaking with doctors and patients about the consultation on updating the medical register.  We’ve received lots of questions asking why we are suggesting these changes, and what is the overall purpose of the consultation?  I’ve tried to bring these questions together and provide some answers which I hope will be useful.

It’s really important for us to understand what doctors, patients and employers consider the purpose of the register to be.

Please remember, if you have a view on our suggestions, tell us via the consultation. We will also take all comments posted on our website into account when we assess the most suitable way forward in the development of the medical register.

RLA Louise Robinson talks to a doctor at one of our events

Our regional liaison advisers hold interactive sessions with doctors to discuss our work (pictured left: Louise Robinson, Regional Liaison Adviser for North London)

Why are you asking about the purpose of the register?

It’s really important for us to understand what doctors, patients and employers consider the purpose of the register to be:

  1. Should it only provide objective information on whether or not a doctor is registered with a license to practise in the UK?
  2. Should it enable individuals to gain greater assurance of the skills, experience and competence of doctors in the UK?

The purpose of the register was something we first explored in independent research we commissioned last year. There was a lot of debate about this, but the view shared by a greater range of groups was that it should enable individuals to gain greater assurance of the skills, experience and competence of doctors. We want to find out if this viewpoint is shared across a much larger population.

Voluntarily adding photos could allow patients to virtually ‘meet their doctor’ before their first visit and potentially lessen some of the anxiety that some patients may experience.

Your responses on this question will help us clearly identify whether the information on the register meets its purpose and if it doesn’t, what information could help us get there.

Why did you include photos as an option to seek views on?

As with all proposals in the consultation, the idea to allow doctors to add their photograph to the medical register is only a suggestion. Our thinking behind this is that it could allow patients to virtually ‘meet their doctor’ before their first visit and potentially lessen some of the anxiety that some patients may experience. Photos are much more widely available on the internet now, but these might be in a variety of different places. If photos were on the register (selected and provided by doctors themselves), this would be a more reliable source of information.

We recognise that doctors have concerns about personal safety and privacy and we are taking these views on-board.

However, we recognise that doctors have concerns about personal safety and privacy – something which was raised through the research and in some of the discussions I’ve had with doctors – and we are taking these views on-board. This idea is also one which would be voluntary, so it’s up to the individual doctor to decide if they want to share this information with patients.

Why are you seeking views on whether practice location might be useful on the register?

One option for information that could be added voluntarily is a ‘primary’ and ‘secondary address’. Some doctors I’ve spoken to were concerned this might refer to their home address, but I can assure you this relates only to your workplace address(es).

In our research last year, patients and members of the public said they wanted to be able to search for doctors in their local area. This might not be relevant to all doctors – for example those who are locum doctors – or for all patients. But in a growing number of cases in England, for example, patients can choose which surgery or hospital to visit (e.g. for an outpatient appointment). So, adding this could enable patients to find out about the options in their area.

During the research, one secondary care doctor also commented: ‘It would be very useful to have more information on there. I would find a professional address useful, for example…We live in a different era now. Patients demand more information.’

©Tony Sleep 2007

©Tony Sleep 2007

Have you thought about the impact of these proposals on the privacy and safety of doctors?

Privacy concerns are serious and we understand why you might be worried about this aspect of the proposals. That is why this is one of the specific areas we ask about in the consultation.

It is important doctors are open and honest about their practice but, like everyone else, you have the right to a private life and for your data to be protected.

It is also why the proposal is to develop a tiered approach to the register. The first tier would include mandatory, core information about each doctor – broadly, the details that are already shown on the register. The second tier would be made up of extra information, which doctors would add voluntarily if, and only if, they wished to do so.

It is important doctors are open and honest about their practice but, like everyone else, you have the right to a private life and for your data to be protected.

Why do you want doctors to include more information about their scope of practice? 

Today, many doctors have complex careers. Take our Senior Medical Adviser, Dr Judith Hulf, as an example. Dr Hulf’s entry on the medical register tells you where she gained her primary medical qualification and that she’s on the Specialist Register in anaesthetics.

But, it doesn’t tell you anything about the wealth of experience she has had since then. You wouldn’t know she was a general and cardiothoracic anaesthetist and held a consultant post for 32 years. It doesn’t show she was President of the Royal College of Anaesthetists or that she now works for us.

This level of detail could help reassure patients about a doctor’s expertise in more specific areas of medicine.

This level of detail could help reassure patients about a doctor’s expertise in more specific areas of medicine. It would also help patients make more informed decisions about their care where they do have a choice of practitioner, for example when using NHS England’s e-referral service.

In one story, shared on our website, a member of the public explains how more information about a doctor’s practice would have been helpful for his father:

‘My father has sadly suffered quite a lot of medical complications over the last 3 years. He is due to see a gastroenterologist soon because of complex problems. He was referred by one consultant to another for specialist advice.

‘The hospital however sent out an appointment for someone different – the secretary said it was a different consultant with lots of experience. A search on [the medical register] revealed he is not on the specialist register. […] Patients need to be able to know who they are seeing and that they are qualified.’

Out of 37 international regulators, 78% display registrants’ current areas of specialism.

It’s possible that although this doctor wasn’t on the Specialist Register, he has years of experience in dealing with cases like this one – but the current register did not provide this information, which led the patient’s son to worry about his father’s care. Or the hospital might have genuinely made a mistake with this appointment booking, but this was difficult for the son to verify using the current medical register.

Another consideration that prompted this proposal was the information currently provided by other regulators from around the world. Out of 37 international regulators, 78% display registrants’ current areas of specialism. Of course, this does not mean we should automatically follow suit, but we included it in the menu of options in the consultation to find out if there is desire for this expansion in the UK.

Chart showing information currently provided by the majority of regulators

All of this information is available elsewhere online, why should the regulator display it?

People can already find much of this data online – either on social media, on NHS trust or health board websites or by doing a Google search. But we want individual doctors to have greater control over their personal information.

We want individual doctors to have greater control over their personal information.

While we would continue to validate the mandatory parts of the register, some of the additional information would be directly entered by the doctor. This would give doctors the flexibility to share some additional details about their work they felt would be useful for employers and patients. It would also give others reassurance that the information is an accurate reflection of a doctor’s practice.

Clearly there would still need to be mechanisms in place to verify this information and this is an issue we ask about specifically in the consultation.

If we were to add more information to the medical register, it could become a single, reliable source that would make it quick and easy for people to get the information they needed.

As it stands, patients and employers might have to search different sources to find information about a doctor. If we were to add more information to the medical register, it could become a single, reliable source that would make it quick and easy for people to get the information they needed.

We’re also asking for ideas on how we could improve the user experience. Perhaps some or most of you think the medical register works perfectly well, but we want to know if it doesn’t – and we’re open to suggestions on how we can make it better.

Answer the consultation by 7 October 2016 online or by filling in a form and sending it to us by email or post.

Headshot of Jo Wren

 

Jo Wren is the Lead Regional Liaison Adviser for the South of England at the General Medical Council. She covers the East of England, talking to groups and individuals that are interested and involved in the work of the GMC.

 

Related posts

Jessie Roff, Policy and Planning Officer at the GMC, explains why we are consulting on possible changes to the medical register

The GMC’s Senior Medical Adviser, Dr Judith Hulf, gives a doctor’s view of the potential benefits of changes to the medical register

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