HL Deb 08 December 2004 vol 667 cc893-5

Baroness Perry of Southwark asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have held discussions with the General Medical Council about the council's proposal to remove the right to prescribe from retired doctors.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Warner)

My Lords, the Department of Health has worked closely with the General Medical Council over the past four years to ensure that its proposals for the revalidation of doctors both protect patient safety and support the delivery of patient care in the National Health Service. We are well aware of the council's proposal to limit prescribing to those doctors who have a licence to practise, and we fully support the council on this matter.

Baroness Perry of Southwark

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply, but in view of the overall shortage of general practitioners and the huge pressure under which they work, do the Government feel no concern at the loss of this experienced resource? Have they asked the General Medical Council what evidence it has that there are problems with the current system?

Lord Warner

My Lords, the General Medical Council is pursuing this, following an order that was debated in both Houses in 2002. The revalidation process is not age related; it merely requires doctors to demonstrate that they are in current practice and that they have the evidence to show that their registration should be approved on a basis of revalidation.

Lord Walton of Detchant

My Lords, in the light of the Minister's response, does he agree that doctors of any age may undertake the process of appraisal of their clinical performance and revalidation? Retired doctors will retain their right to be registered medical practitioners, but unless they have been revalidated they will not have the right to engage in clinical practice and have prescribing rights.

I confess that next year I shall hope to apply for revalidation, even as a past president. If I fail in that endeavour, does the noble Lord accept that I shall not longer be qualified to minister to any Members of this House who fall sick?

Lord Warner

My Lords, I have just been advised by my noble friend the Chief Whip to sort it out. I am sure that all Members of this House will be happy to contribute to the dossier that no doubt the noble Lord will be presenting to the General Medical Council in his application for revalidation. More seriously, his explanation is exactly right, and I could not better it.

Lord Renton

My Lords, speaking as the son of a doctor who retired, I make the point that ours is a free society and people should be allowed to benefit in any possible way that does not ruin them. Does the Minister agree that giving doctors who have retired the opportunity to write prescriptions will not ruin us at all?

Lord Warner

My Lords, I hear from behind me that it depends on what they write. That is, in fact, absolutely right. It will not have escaped the attention of the noble Lord that a lot of change goes on in medication and in the types of drugs that are available. It is important that doctors keep up to date with current knowledge and practice. That is why the revalidation process, which the General Medical Council has been working on for some time, is important. It ensures that patients, even if they are family members of a doctor, are protected by ensuring that their prescriptions reflect current practice and that they are written by doctors who are up to date.

Lord Addington

My Lords, in the revalidation process, apparently doctors must prove that they work with colleagues. Would this always mean another doctor, or would it mean other related professions such as nurses or pharmacists?

Lord Warner

My Lords, the system of validation that is being put in place by the General Medical Council does, I believe, have local appraisers who can work in some of these areas. The details of the arrangements are matters for the General Medical Council.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there has been great ill will in the General Dental Council? I am delighted to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Walton, that retired doctors will be able to remain on the register. However, the General Dental Council has sent letters to retired dentists to say that they are erased from the register, which of course means that there is no difference between the person who has retired honourably and the one who has been struck off.

Is the Minister further aware that in Australia it was decided that retired doctors could no longer write prescriptions, but now, a couple of years later, that decision has been reversed? It has been found that it is desirable to have retired doctors who can write prescriptions.

Lord Warner

My Lords, the arrangements for the General Dental Council are a little wide of this Question. They are, in any case, matters for the General Dental Council, not for Department of Health Ministers. I will certainly look into the Australian experience, but I repeat that the revalidation of doctors is a matter for the General Medical Council, and it does take account of the regulations that have been passed by both Houses of Parliament.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, does the Minister agree that this Question is rather unfair to elderly doctors as well as to other elderly people? As one gets older, one finds that retired doctors get amazingly young.

Lord Warner

My Lords, this is not age related. We just want doctors to be up to date with current practice and to be safe to treat patients.

Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior

My Lords, it is well known that doctors are very pushed these days to find the time to practise their skills and knowledge. Indeed, might it not be that a retired doctor has more time to be up to date with the massive armamentarium of pharmaceutical products that are currently available?

Lord Warner

My Lords, I do not think that it matters what age a doctor is: he has to be up to date but he also has to be in current practice, seeing patients and applying that knowledge to patients in a safe way.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, can the Minister tell us a little more about the General Medical Council system of validation? When people get to a certain age, they have to take a regular driving test. Will there be a requirement regularly to appraise retired doctors' knowledge of modern medicines and drugs?

Lord Warner

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord, like any Member of this House who has a thirst for more knowledge of the detail of the revalidation process, will be able to contact the General Medical Council and have all his questions answered.

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