BMA says tackling the huge backlog of applications for driving licence medicals must not be at the expense of public and patient safety

by BMA Media Team

BMA Press Release

Location: England UK
Last reviewed: 23 August 2021

The BMA estimates there are more than 200,000 people waiting for medical assessment so they can renew their driving licenses and the figure is growing every month. All HGV licence applications must be accompanied by a medical assessment. Earlier in the pandemic their expiry dates were extended in order to keep the country’s supply chains going during lockdown but that extension period has now come to an end. 

When combined with the backlog of, primarily car, driving licence holders who need ‘fitness to drive’ assessments for their applications, the BMA estimates the total number of patients requiring medical assessments for licence applications to be over 200,000 - rising by thousands each month. At present standard driving licence holders are advised to request fitness to drive assessments from their GP, but there is also the option of going to any registered medical practitioner. However, they will not have access to the full lifelong medical history of a patient. 

Because of these concerns, BMA has written to the Department of Transport calling for the Government to guarantee a ‘safety-first’ approach for plans to manage backlog. In a letter to the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Baroness Vere of Norbiton – which expresses “concerns that this style of self-reporting is neither sensible nor safe” – BMA Professional Fees Committee chair, Dr Peter Holden, says that GPs and their teams are “gravely concerned” about the potential impact on road safety that this process of bypassing individual’s own GP practices may have. 

The letter to the Baroness Vere outlines that while seeking ‘fit to drive’ sign off from any registered medical practitioner may result in the DVLA backlog being addressed sooner, safety must be a priority here and therefore a safety-first approach is crucial for the integrity of the DVLA licensing system and, more importantly, for the safety of all. 

Dr Holden, BMA 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.”  

Notes to editors

The BMA is a trade union and professional association representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.