Richard Marchant, one of our Assistant Directors, talks about the joint work we’ll be doing with the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges to make the medical register more useful for doctors, employers and patients.

You may remember that back in December I provided an update about our consultation on the future of the medical register. We have listened carefully to the views expressed by the profession in response to this – in particular their concerns about privacy and safety – and we won’t be making any significant changes at this stage.

One of the issues we looked at was that the current register does not give any information about what area of medicine a doctor is working in right now – their scope of practice.

Understanding a doctor’s current scope of practice would let us produce tools and support, which are relevant to a doctor’s area of clinical expertise, building on what we did last year when we developed guidance for doctors who provide cosmetic treatments and surgery.

So we do want to begin exploring how we might be able to collect information about doctors’ scope of practice in an accurate and meaningful way – without imposing any extra costs or burdens on doctors or compromising their privacy or safety in any way.

It’s important we make sure this work has strong professional input. That’s why we will be working closely with the medical royal colleges and faculties to develop some ideas which we’ll later be testing with the profession.

Would this information go on the register?

The exploratory work will help us answer this question and whether we could maintain this information on the register in a way that is useful, practical and not burdensome. As I mentioned earlier, once we have a clearer picture of this, we will seek further input from the profession.

We believe this would be beneficial – the register is not an accurate reflection of a doctor’s subsequent career or current area of clinical expertise. For example, previous estimates show that around 14% of doctors on the Specialist Register are no longer working in their registered specialty.

It could also benefit the 43,000 doctors who are not on the GP or Specialist Registers, or in training, because the medical register shows nothing about the nature of the valuable roles which these doctors play in our health services.

There is also some evidence that patients would like to see this information when they make choices about their care – 86% of patients surveyed told us this would be helpful.

What people have already told us

We’ve already had some helpful suggestions about some of the issues we need to think about when considering the collection of scope of practice information – these will be fed into our exploratory work. We’ll look at:

  • How we could devise a proportionate way to classify different areas of medical practice that would be meaningful for both patients and professionals.
  • How we can make sure that the safety of doctors working in some sensitive areas of medical practice is not compromised.
  • How the information might be collected and maintained without imposing additional costs and burdens on hardworking doctors and the wider system.

What other improvements we’ll be making

While we work with the medical royal colleges, we want to bring the look, feel and functionality of the medical register into the 21st century so that we can make it simpler and easier for everyone to use.  Compared to some other countries, our register is looking out of date.

Safety first

Rest assured that any developments we make in the data we collect from doctors in the future will not jeopardise the privacy or safety of individual doctors.

We take our responsibilities under the data protection act very seriously. And while there will also be different views on what a modern register should look like and include, we will not impose solutions on the profession that the profession as a whole rejects.