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Are recertification plans good for general practice?

The RCGP's Professor Mike Pringle insists the system will be fair and transparent. But GMC member Dr Krishna Korlipara believes assessment by staff is an inappropriate way of judging clinical competence.

The RCGP's Professor Mike Pringle insists the system will be fair and transparent. But GMC member Dr Krishna Korlipara believes assessment by staff is an inappropriate way of judging clinical competence.

Yes

Are recertification and revalidation really necessary?

Well, my view is that it is no longer sufficient to qualify as a doctor and to pass the MRCGP before, say, the age of 30, and then to practise through to 65 or older with no further question about your competency.

We could rely, as we have in the past, on dodgy doctors ‘coming to light' through complaints or PCT investigations, but that's not sufficient reassurance to us as colleagues or to the public.

So if periodically demonstrating that we are keeping up to date and still fit to practise is necessary, we need to be sure that the system imposed on us is appropriate.

By this I mean that it achieves its aims of ensuring our fitness, and being fair, transparent and feasible.

The first step is to agree what we mean by an acceptable GP, and this is the purpose of the RCGP's Good Medical Practice for General Practitioners.

The college is asking for your views on the new draft of this at present. The second step is to say what tests will be applied, to what level, and how doctors will demonstrate their compliance.

This is the purpose of a document called Criteria, Standards and Evidence that is being worked up at present. When it is published, every GP and member of the public will see clearly what is expected.

What follows in this article is a personal view based on the early thinking for Criteria, Standards and Evidence. Whatever the college proposes will be put out for consultation and tested in pilots.

The plans will have to be approved by the GMC, which will want to be sure the college's plans are fit for purpose and equivalent to those for other types of doctors.

Much of the evidence will be already available to most GPs. It will come through their appraisals, their audits – including significant events – their patient surveys and clinical governance.

Standard process

A new method of measuring continuing professional development is likely to form part of the package. One new element is likely to be multi-source feedback – asking your colleagues to rate you. It is a fairly standard process and such surveys are already part of regular appraisal at the GMC.

At each annual appraisal GPs will be asked to share the evidence they are gathering. The appraiser will check both its quantity (is it enough for this phase in the five-year cycle?) and its quality (does it show good enough care?).

If it is insufficient, the appraiser will advise on how to improve it. At each appraisal GPs will plan what to put in the folder for the next year.

At the end of the five-year cycle, GPs will submit the folder of evidence containing enough for relicensure (continuing to be a doctor) and recertification (continuing to be a GP). There will be local sign-off from the PCT and appraiser.

If the folder meets the standards in Criteria, Standards and Evidence, the college will recommend you to the GMC.

As a five-year exercise, this sounds doable, but that will be tested through pilots – as will its effectiveness in sorting the vast majority who are good GPs from the few who are not. If the college cannot recommend a GP for recertification, there is no immediate effect.

The GMC would need to review the evidence and, if necessary, start fitness-to-practise processes. So for the few, the case that they are unacceptable GPs must be proven.

I believe we can design and implement a recertification process that is fair, fit for purpose, transparent and which is not too bureaucratic. I hope all GPs will look out for and comment on the college's proposals.

The eventual system should be what you decide will be best for GPs and patients.

Professor Pringle is a council member of the RCGP, a member of the RCGP stakeholder group on recertification and a GMC council member

No

Under the current proposals for revalidation, all GPs need to be recertified every five years by the RCGP, in addition to annual appraisals by their local colleagues.

In order to be acceptable to the GMC for purposes of relicensure and revalidation, appraisals are to be based on seven Good Medical Practice criteria – good clinical care, maintaining good medical knowledge, teaching and training, surveys from patient questionnaires, peer questionnaires, probity, and health.

Based on satisfactory outcomes, doctors can expect to be given relicensure.

But the RCGP's proposals for recertification go further. They rely on feedback from not just one's peers, but also from nurses, managers and presumably other members of the healthcare team such as medical secretaries, health visitors and social workers.

These proposals are seriously flawed in many respects.

Recertification, to be fair and fit for purpose, should be based not on third-party opinions but on an assessment of a GP's knowledge and skills.

Such assessment should be measured by evidence of their participation in educational activities, the lessons learned from such activities, and an audit of disease management in different clinical areas – such as diabetes, coronary artery disease and COPD.

The remit of the RCGP is to come up with the criteria, standards and evidence needed to make a good doctor, to guide the appraisers, but not to take over the functions of the GMC, which has the sole responsibility for relicensing and revalidating doctors.

Patient and peer questionnaires can be a valuable tool for revalidation, and should be administered every five years as part of the revalidation process, which is a function of the GMC, not of the royal college.

Information gathered from surveys of patient questionnaires selected at random can give valuable insight into the listening and communication skills of the doctor and can inform the revalidation process.

Peer questionnaires could also be used for revalidation, specifically to gather a cross-section of opinion from medical colleagues on a doctor's qualities as a team member, referral patterns and adverse incidents.

But such questionnaires are not appropriate for recertification, which is all about assessment of knowledge and skills, rather than an assessment of a doctor's continuing fitness to practise.

Wary of bias

We should also be wary of the dangers of seeking feedback from nurses and other members of the primary healthcare team, who may find themselves in an invidious position of either saying all the right things about a doctor with whom they have to work, for fear of offending, or saying things which are not strictly true based on mutual dislike.

Either way these views are unreliable and should not be used even for appraisals. They are too subjective to be of any real value and carry the risk of personal bias.

Doctors have hitherto been led to believe that appraisals will be formative rather than summative, and supportive rather than punitive, so that an appraisee can confidently and confidentially cooperate with the appraiser, knowing that the whole exercise is meant to help the candidate to learn from identified gaps in knowledge.

To retain the confidence of all doctors, appraisals should remain formative and supportive, with the sole exception of cases where a doctor's performance is found to be so deficient that their continued practice could be a danger to patients.

In such cases – but only in such cases – an appraiser should be bound to share their concerns with the employer. But any more onerous system of appraisal could become a threat to thousands of doctors.

Dr Korlipara is an elected member of the GMC and former chair of the GP consultative group on revalidation

Professor Mike Pringle

We can design a process that is fair, fit for purpose and transparent

Dr Krishna Korlipara

The views of staff are subjective and carry the risk of personal bias

Mike Pringle Krishna Korlipara

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