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Doctors in the UK may soon be required to tell the nation’s Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) about any patients that may pose a safety risk behind the wheel.

The UK’s General Medical Council (GMC) announced its plans overnight, releasing a draft of the new regulations to the public for consultation.

The council’s CEO, Niall Dickson, said that the decision will make it possible for doctors to act on their conscience with the knowledge that they will not have broken patient confidentiality laws.

“A confidential medical service is a public good, and trust is an essential part of the doctor-patient relationship, but confidentiality is not absolute and doctors can play an important part in keeping the wider public safe if a patient is not safe to drive,” Dickson said.

“Doctors often find themselves in challenging situations. This is difficult territory – most patients will do the sensible thing but the truth is that a few will not and may not have the insight to realise that they are a risk to others behind the wheel of a car.”

Dr Maureen Baker, chairwoman of the UK’s Royal College of GPs, said that “where possible”, the responsibility of reporting a doctor’s recommendation of unfitness to drive should be left to the patient, but this new guidance will allow doctors to follow up.

“In some cases, if a patient hasn’t self-reported, we do take this step on their behalf,” Dr Baker said.

The draft guidance has won the support of the UK’s RAC Foundation.

“The worst thing motorists can do is ignore medical advice. If they don’t tell the DVLA about something that impacts on their ability to drive safely, then their GP will,” RAC Foundation director Steve Gooding said.

The decision is understood to be a response to increasing pressure on the UK government to introduce laws that will require older drivers to be re-tested more often.

Laws for older drivers in Australia vary from state to state. In most cases, doctors are allowed to report a patient’s unfitness to drive, but there is no law compelling them to do so.

Doctors have expressed concerns that reporting unfitness to drive could lead patients to stop seeking help, or to seek out doctors willing to submit false information.

Instead, motorists are urged to monitor their own fitness and to regulate their driving activity or report health concerns to their state’s licensing agency.

“In our experience, older drivers are very good at picking up on the signs that they may not be as safe behind the wheel as they once were and, in most cases, they will self-regulate,” said Janet Dore, the former CEO of Victoria’s Traffic Accident Commission.

“That could mean deciding not to drive at night or not driving at peak hour when traffic conditions are more complex to navigate.”

In Victoria alone, more than 21,000 older motorists had their licences suspended or cancelled between July 1 2014 and July 15 2015, after failing a VicRoads medical assessment.

Older driver licence requirements in Australia:

Qld: No age-specific requirement for re-testing or medical review, but drivers over 75 must carry a valid medical certificate. An assessment may at times be required, based on advice from a doctor or police.
NSW: Drivers over 75 must undergo a medical review each year.
ACT: Drivers over 75 must undergo a medical review each year.
Vic: No age-specific requirement for re-testing or medical review, but drivers over 75 must carry a valid medical certificate. An assessment may at times be required, based on advice from a doctor or police.
Tas: No age-specific requirement for re-testing or medical review, but drivers over 75 must carry a valid medical certificate. An assessment may at times be required, based on advice from a doctor or police.
SA: Drivers over 75 are sent a self-assessment form annually. A medical assessment may be required, depending on the answers provided.
WA: Drivers over 80 must undergo a medical review each year.
NT: No age-specific requirement for re-testing or medical review, but drivers over 75 must carry a valid medical certificate. An assessment may at times be required, based on advice from a doctor or police.




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