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Thousands of GPs to be revalidated by non-GP responsible officers

Exclusive: Responsible officers who do not work in general practice are to make revalidation recommendations for thousands of GPs across England.

Figures provided by NHS England show that four of the 27 responsible officers at NHS England in charge of revalidating the country’s 45,000 GPs are on the specialist register rather than the GP register.

The news comes despite LMCs insisting that responsible officers must be practising GPs. It follows Pulse’s revelation earlier this month that the first GP is at risk of losing their licence to practise for failing to engage with revalidation, and official figures showing that one in ten GPs have had their revalidation deferred.

There are a total of 27 responsible officers – all local area team medical directors – in charge of the revalidation of 45,000 GPs, according to NHS England.

The 27 responsible officers at NHS England will be responsible for the majority of GPs’ revalidation recommendations, apart from locums. Responsible officers overlook the revalidation process, ensuring GPs submit their supporting documentation in time, and checking that the local systems put in place by the designated body are robust enough to support revalidation. They also make a recommendation to the GMC about a doctor’s revalidation by looking at the documentation sent to them. The GMC then makes the final decision on whether the doctor should be revalidated.

A motion backed by representatives at the 2010 LMCs conference demanded responsible officers ‘must be a practising GP’.

GMC chief executive Niall Dickson said that it was not necessary that responsible officers were GPs, as they will simply be making a judgement on the documentation they are sent by GPs’ appraisers.

He told Pulse: ‘The important point of contact is the appraiser, that you’re happy that the person who is appraising you really understands your practice and so forth. But in most cases the responsible officer will be a senior doctor. They will not be doing the appraisals, they will just be making a judgement on the information that comes to them.’

He added: ‘It’s something which I have no doubt NHS England will look at when the system beds in. If it were found, and I’d be really surprised, that the non-GP responsible officers were somehow doing something different, obviously it would be something to look at. I don’t think it’s something that should concern individual doctors. For the vast majority of GPs this thing will go through relatively smoothly, it really shouldn’t be an issue.’

GPC chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said ideally a responsible officer would be a GP, but if not then there should be a support system in place.

He said: ‘It is right that GPs who are being assessed for a recommendation should have that assessment from a GP who understands the context of general practice. If we have a situation where responsible officers are not GPs, we need to have a system to ensure a fair judgement has taken place.’

An NHS England spokesman said: ‘The responsible officer regulations require that a responsible officer has been a licensed medical practitioner for five years. There is no stipulation or guidance that a responsible officer should be of the same specialty, which would not be possible in secondary care.’

‘Only 27 of the 32 NHS England responsible officers make recommendations on revalidation for GPs. These 27 responsible officers also make recommendations on some secondary care locums.’

‘Medical directors of area teams have been appointed on the basis of their skills and experience to undertake their management roles, including responsible officer duties.’