One retired GP said he, and at least three others locally, had been forced to stop working as approved Mental Health Act doctors after a DH administrative error.
Former GPC member Dr Eric Rose said he had continued his work as an approved Mental Health Act doctor after retiring as a GP in 2008, partly to supplement his pension.
But in April new guidelines ruled out GPs who were no longer on the performers list from carrying out the work.
‘The previous qualification was you’d have to have done a refresher course once during the five-year period, and have references,' Dr Rose said.
‘But when you read the regulations, it defines who may be an approved doctor, and it doesn’t include retired GPs. So suddenly, at a stroke, I’m not allowed to do it.’
Dr Rose, who worked as a GP in Buckinghamshire for 36 years, said he carried out around 2,000 Mental Health Act assessments last year - ‘more than most consultant psychiatrists’.
‘Often I bring to bear my GP knowledge,' he said, ‘particularly when somebody is also physically unwell. So I’ve been doing a useful job, appreciated by everybody.’
After writing to his MP, Dr Rose received a letter from health secretary Jeremy Hunt who said the issue would be addressed by the Mental Health Act Approvals Reference Group.
But Dr Rose said any amendment to the regulations would come too late for him as he was forced to stop practising at the end of November. ‘One loses momentum,' he said. ‘I’m 69 and have been retired for years. I would rather make the decision myself,' he said.
A DH spokeswoman said: ‘Assessing whether someone should be detained under the Mental Health Act is a very important decision – which is why we want to make sure that only doctors who are suitably qualified carry out this role.
‘Since April, seven panels of experts across the country have carried out this work on behalf of the health secretary.
‘We will change the guidelines shortly so that GPs who have retired but have previously been on the performers list and been approved under section 12 (2) of the Mental Health Act can seek re-approval. This will ensure that retired GPs who are still qualified to work can do so.’