BMA urges safety-first approach in tackling driving licence medicals backlog

More than 200,000 motorists are awaiting medical assessments for driving licence applications, a doctors’ union has estimated, as it warned of the potentially “grave impact” on road safety if people bypass their GPs in favour of independent practitioners.

The British Medical Association (BMA) has written to the Department of Transport calling for the Government to guarantee a “safety-first” approach when it comes to managing the backlog.

The union said the number of people waiting is growing every month and warned that avoiding the queue by going to an independent practitioner brings with it the risk that, without them having a full patient history, medical conditions could be, either intentionally or otherwise, played down.

The BMA has written to Baroness Vere, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Transport, to voice its “concerns that this style of self-reporting is neither sensible nor safe” and to call for an approach that involves a person’s GP.

The organisation also urged the authorities to be “honest” with people about the backlog and how long it will take to be addressed.

Dr Peter Holden, BMA professional fees committee chair, said: “Across the country, thousands of drivers require medical ‘fit to drive’ sign-off in order to obtain or renew their drivers’ licence.

“We know that some of these drivers, aware of the current DVLA backlog, are bypassing the queue at their own GP practice and going to third party registered medical practitioners.

“The issue here is that only an individual’s GP practices has access to a patient’s full medical record, so only they know whether or not that person is fit to drive.

“By seeking ‘sign-off’ from an independent practitioner, who only has the patient’s word to go by, there’s a risk that medical conditions may be, either intentionally or unintendedly, understated and this has already had a grave impact on road safety.

“With this in mind, the Government must ensure that there is a process in place to involve an applicant’s GP.

“It is also important that the Government and DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency) are honest with the public regarding just how long this backlog will take to clear so that expectations are managed, and patients do not start making multiple calls to their GP practice while they wait for medical assessments.”

A spokesperson for the DVLA said extra staff and evening shifts will help tackle the backlog.

They said: “We welcome the decision by the BMA and Royal College of GPs to review DVLA medicals after they were temporarily deprioritised during the pandemic.

“By law, all drivers must meet medical standards for fitness at all times, and there are additional checks for bus and lorry drivers.

“We have plans in place to reduce the current backlog of medical applications by bringing in additional staff and evening shifts, and are also working on additional measures to increase our surge capacity and help process applications faster.”