The GMC is consulting on strengthening its advice after doctors said they were anxious about criticism for breaching patient confidentiality.
The proposed new guidance tells doctors that if a patient poses a risk of serious harm to the public by continuing to drive when they are unfit to do so, the doctor should contact the licensing authority even if they do not have the patient’s consent.
The GMC said this action should be a last resort if efforts to encourage a patient to comply with their legal responsibilities to inform the authorities fail.
GMC chief executive Niall Dickson said: ‘Doctors often find themselves in challenging situations. This is difficult territory – most patients will do the sensible thing but the truth is that a few will not and may not have the insight to realise that they are a risk to others behind the wheel of a car.
‘A confidential medical service is a public good and trust is an essential part of the doctor-patient relationship. But confidentiality is not absolute and doctors can play an important part in keeping the wider public safe if a patient is not safe to drive.
‘We are clear that doctors carrying out their duty will not face any sanction - and this new guidance makes clear that we will support those who are faced with these difficult decisions.’
Duty of care
RCGP chairwoman Dr Maureen Baker said: ‘GPs have a duty of care to their patients, but they also have a responsibility to the wider community and this often leads to having to make difficult decisions.
‘The unique relationship between GPs and their patients is one based on trust, and that works both ways, so where possible we try to leave the responsibility for reporting unfitness to drive in the hands of the patient. But we do follow up on recommendations we make, and in some cases - if a patient hasn't self-reported - we do take this step on their behalf.
‘We are bound by the GMC to report a patient to the appropriate organisation, such as the DVLA if a patient is unfit to drive, when we know they pose a risk to themselves or to others.’