Doctors must inform the DVLA if a patient continues to drive against medical advice, according to new guidance from the General Medical Council (GMC).
The new guidance, which emphasises a doctor’s duty to disclose information where the patient has failed to act, is part of a public consultation on the GMC’s core guidance on confidentiality.
The GMC has moved to clarify its stance that confidentiality is not absolute after feedback from doctors revealed that they often feel anxious about being criticised if they disclose information.
It advises that doctors should disclose information if it is necessary to protect individuals or the wider public from risks of death or serious harm – whether that is from violent crime, serious communicable diseases, or the risks posed by patients who are not fit to drive.
However, the GMC adds that these steps should only be taken as a last resort, if efforts to encourage the patient to act responsibly fail.
The guidance also emphasises that when they diagnose a patient’s condition, or provide treatment, doctors should keep the patient’s ability to drive safely at the forefront of their minds.
Niall Dickson, chief executive of the GMC, 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.’
Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said: “37 million drivers depend on the car for getting about and for those with serious medical conditions there is a real fear around losing their license. But with the right treatment many illnesses will not lead to people having to hang up the keys.
"The worst thing motorists can do is ignore medical advice. If they don’t tell the DVLA about something that impacts on their ability to drive safely then their GP will.
“Depriving someone of their ability to drive can create its own set of social and health issues and doctors will take reasonable steps to help keep people mobile, though not at the cost of endangering the wider public. Ultimately the way forward must be for doctor and patient to work together rather than in isolation.”
The road safety charity Brake has also welcomed the strengthening of guidelines.
Gary Rae, Brake’s director of communications and campaigns, said: “This is a positive move by the GMC, which will clarify the responsibilities and duties of both doctor and patient. We do recognise that, previously, doctors have been in a difficult position regarding confidentiality of their patients but the guidance makes it clear that this confidentiality is not absolute.”
The final GMC guidance is expected to be published in late 2016.