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How do Ireland's doctor competence checks fare against Britain's strict new rules?

New UK rules mean doctors are assessed every five years and have their licences renewed. So how does it work in Ireland?

Image: Stethoscope image via Shutterstock

NEW DOCTOR ASSESSMENT procedures  in the UK mean doctors will have to go through an annual appraisal and a more comprehensive meeting every five years when their licence is renewed.

The new ‘revalidation’ system was introduced in December and the General Medical Council (GMC) is in charge of its implementation. All 230,000 licensed doctors will be expected to demonstrate they are keeping up to date and fit to practise, and have their licences reviewed every five years.

UK doctors will be required to keep a portfolio of evidence on professional development, feedback from colleagues and patients and reviews of complaints to show they meet the necessary standards. They will then go through a revalidation process every five years whereby this portfolio is assessed and the responsible officer will recommend to the GMC that their licence be renewed.

When it was launched, the British Department of Health said the plan meant doctors in the UK were to become “the  first in the world” to have regular assessments but Ireland’s system, while less strict, has many similarities.

Professional competence in Ireland

Since May 2011, all doctors in Ireland have been required to fulfill professional competence activities on an annual basis, not unlike the new procedures in the UK.

Doctors must enroll in a professional competence scheme with a postgraduate training body and engage in 50 hours of “continuing professional development” with one clinical audit per year.

They will then be required to make a statutory declaration to the Medical Council that they are maintaining professional competence each year in order to retain registration.

However, unlike the new system in the UK, only a sample of the doctors are audited and have evidence of their professional development assessed.

Doctors may also face a system of “performance procedures” if concerns are raised with the council about a doctor’s performance. A concern which triggers an assessment of performance is more often based on a number of problems which point to a pattern about the doctor’s general overall practice.

For example, a local healthcare manager could highlight concerns about particular patterns in a doctor’s performance over a period of time. This could arise from a portfolio of information including complaints from patients, concerns from colleagues, reviews of clinical incidents and the outcome of clinical audit.

In the Dáil last year James Reilly said the requirements for doctors introduced in 2011 are a “significant step” and a “concrete assurance that medical practitioners are appropriately qualified and competent to practise safely”.

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