A leading doctors’ union has warned that delays in handling driving licence applications could have a “grave impact” on road safety as drivers turn to alternative channels to obtain medical clearance to drive.
The British Medical Association (BMA) has said that a safety-first approach must be taken in processing licence applications to ensure drivers who are medically unfit to drive are not allowed on the road.
The BMA estimates that more than 200,000 motorists are awaiting medical assessments for licence applications and the waiting list is growing longer every month.
It has raised concerns that drivers could try to jump the queue by going to an independent practitioner rather than their usual GP. Doing this, it says, means assessments will be done without the patient’s full medical history and could lead to conditions being downplayed - accidentally or deliberately.
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The union has written to Baroness Vere, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Transport, to highlight “concerns that this style of self-reporting is neither sensible nor safe” in determining if a person is fit to drive.
Dr Peter Holden, the BMA’s 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 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 Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, said it was taking steps to cut the backlog, which has seen motorists waiting months to obtain new licences.
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.”