The General Medical Council (Licence to Practise and Revalidation) Regulations Order of Council 2012 (the Order)

In a medical context, ‘fitness to practise’ has, until now, been a concept that is only examined in the course of reactive regulatory proceedings, typically following a complaint regarding a doctor’s conduct. However, under a new regime to be implemented from 3 December 2012, the GMC will require all doctors practising in the United Kingdom (save for some exceptional cases) to demonstrate, via periodic assessment, that they are fit to continue practising medicine.

In order to practise medicine in the UK, the GMC currently requires doctors to be both registered and hold a licence to practise. Licences to practise do not currently expire after a set period of time. However, under the new regime, the licence to practise will no longer be open-ended but subject to renewal by way of a revalidation process.  Revalidation will, in the majority of cases, take place every five years and will, essentially, operate as an evaluative system.

The framework for  revalidation is based on the GMC’s Good Medical Practice guidance for doctors, which sets out the principles and values on which good practice is founded.

Many doctors will already have a 'responsible officer' - usually a locally-based, senior doctor responsible for supervising their performance and conduct. Responsible officers will also be charged with conducting a practitioner’s revalidation. Where the doctor does not have a responsible officer, he/she must arrange for a suitable person to carry out an assessment of their fitness for revalidation or, failing this, the registrar can require the practitioner to undertake an assessment at that practitioner’s own cost. Detailed provisions as to who will constitute a 'suitable person' are set out in the order.

The Department of Health (DoH) explanatory memorandum to the order states that doctors will be expected to participate in an annual appraisal and maintain a portfolio documenting their experience and skills for each five year revalidation period. The DoH expects that a doctor’s portfolio will demonstrate continuing professional development, quality improvement activity, significant events, feedback from colleagues and patients, and a review of complaints and compliments.

The responsible officer (or other suitable person) will make a judgement as to whether the doctor should be recommended to the GMC for revalidation of their licence to practise.

It is hoped by the GMC that the system will result in better safety for patients and increased public trust and confidence in the profession and it expects to begin notifying doctors of their first revalidation dates in December 2012, with most doctors to have been revalidated by March 2016.