BMA calls for change to rules around DVLA medical checks

The BMA has written to the government asking for a change in rules that would require all driving medicals to be completed by the driver’s own GP, saying the current system that allows patients to be certified by any doctor is unsafe.

Drivers need a medical as part of obtaining a license to drive a HGV (Photo: DaveBolton/Getty Images)
Drivers need a medical as part of obtaining a license to drive a HGV (Photo: DaveBolton/Getty Images)

All applications for licenses to drive a HGV or bus must be accompanied by a medical assessment, which has to be undertaken every five years after the driver reaches 45 years old. Meanwhile some individuals also require a ‘fitness to drive’ assessment to apply for, or continue to hold, their driving licence.

In many cases medical assessments would be provided by a patient’s own GP, but people are entitled to get medical confirmation from any registered doctor. A number of commercial companies offer medicals for those applying for a license to drive a larger vehicle.

The BMA has warned for a number of years that this situation poses a safety risk because only a patient's GP has access to the applicant's full medical history.

However it has now raised concerns that a backlog of applications which has developed during the pandemic could mean more people will seek confirmation of their fitness to drive from someone other than their GP.

Application backlog

The BMA estimates there could be up to 200,000 DVLA applications that require a medical assessment, which it says is rising by thousands each month.

Earlier in the pandemic arrangements were put in place to extend the validity of HGV licenses, which drivers are required by law to regularly renew. However this arrangement has now come to an end contributing to the growing backlog.

BMA professional fees committee chair Dr Peter Holden said the BMA knew that some drivers were aiming to speed up the process by 'bypassing the queue' at their GP practice and going to third party doctors.

In a letter to Department of Transport, Dr Holden said that the current arrangements were an 'inherently dysfunctional system long overdue for reform'.

He said that while the system may seem 'beneficial' in helping to clear the backlog of cases it posed significant risks to public safety.

'The third party doctor will of necessity be basing their assessment on such information provided by the applicant with regard to their medical history,' the letter said.

Safety risk

'For many years we have expressed concerns to the DVLA that this style of self-reporting is neither sensible nor safe and we are aware of cases where patients have either forgotten or deliberately withheld salient information and in rare cases engaging in deliberate deception in order to obtain a driving licence.'

Dr Holden cited the case from December 2014 where a bin lorry in Glasgow crashed into pedestrians killing six people and wounding a further 15. The driver of the lorry had a history of health issues, which he had not disclosed to the DVLA or his employers.

'We have grave concerns that it will only be a matter of time before such an incident will be repeated if current practices continue,' the letter said.

'We believe that it is crucial for the integrity of the DVLA licensing system and, more importantly for the safety of all, that medical professionals providing medical input into an individual’s suitability to drive have access to all the necessary information contained in a patient’s full medical record,' it added.

The BMA said it wanted the government to adopt a 'safety first' approach to driving licences requiring the patient to go through their own GP for medical certification that followed a similar approach to firearms licensing.

'It is also important that the government and DVLA 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,' Dr Holden said.

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