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GPs should undergo ‘robust’ assessment if away from work for more than three months, say Royal Colleges

GPs who are away from work for more than three months should undergo a ‘robust' assessment before they return to work to ensure patient safety, new guidance from the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges suggests.

The Return to Practice Guidance says the Academy developed considerable concern about return to practice procedures during its role in developing revalidation.

The guidance says assessments should be ‘commensurately more robust‘ depending on the length of absence.

A working group from the Academy reviewed international evidence on doctors returning to work, including US data suggesting the longer a doctor was out of practice and the older they were, the more likely they were to have poor performance ratings.

The guidance says absences of three months or less are less likely to cause significant problems, but called on GPs planning longer absences to prepare an action plan before they leave. It says those returning after a gap of more than three months should be assessed either before they return or immediately on their return.

Assessments should be carried out using checklists on skill levels and training needs as well as any administrative or clinical changes since the doctor was last in practice. The guidance does not state who should carry out return to work assessments for GPs, but suggests they can contact their responsible officers.

It adds that GPs returning to work should be given ‘straightforward' patient lists, with length of support provided proportional to their length of absence.

Dr Clarissa Fabre, a GP in Uckfield, West Sussex and president of the Medical Women´s Federation welcomed the guidance but said three months was too short an absence to trigger an assessment for GPs. ‘That timescale is a bit too short. Normally GPs are fine for absences up to a year.

'It´s not going to be possible to assess all the doctors who go off for three months. They´ll be swamped.'

'The guidance also fails to specify who GPs should contact when they want to come back to work which is question our members often ask. It doesn´t really help there. It would be good to have a named role'.