The content of this website is intended for healthcare professionals only

Single national licensing exam for all doctors to come on stream

GMC says ‘passport to practise’ will be fairer and more reassuring for the public

Caroline White

Friday, 26 September 2014

The General Medical Council has agreed to develop a single national licensing exam for all doctors wishing to practise in the UK, irrespective of where they have qualified.

The decision, which was made yesterday, marks the first step towards developing a unified ‘passport to practise’ and signals the regulator’s intention to create a single fairer standard for entry to the register.

The exam will be designed to give patients assurance about the competence and quality of those treating them, regardless of where they received their training.

Niall Dickson, GMC Chief Executive, said: “This is the start of a process that, if we get it right, will create a level playing field for entry into medicine in the UK.”

He added that medicine is an increasingly mobile profession, which require systems in place “which not only ensure that UK-trained graduates meet the required standards, but that all doctors practising here have been examined and evaluated to the same high level.”

He emphasised: “There is plenty of detail to be worked out, but today we begin discussions about how to develop a single ‘passport to practise’.”

The GMC has indicated that it will work with doctors, patients, employers and educators to develop the exam.

Dickson continued that the regulator’s aspiration was that the exam should apply to any doctor joining the medical register, including those from the European Economic Area—which is not currently enforceable under European law.

“We would certainly like to see a situation where doctors from Europe themselves would wish to demonstrate that they are meeting the required standards by sitting the exam. The fact that a doctor has passed the national exam would almost certainly be noted on his or her entry on the medical register for everyone to see,” he explained.

“We believe it would be fairer and more reassuring to the public for there to be a single standard for entry to the register that everyone can rely on. Over time the exam should help to drive up standards,” he suggested.

The GMC’s Council will consider the issue again in June 2015 to look at how best to implement the new exam, which would replace the current entrance examination for international medical graduates, PLAB (Professional & Linguistics Assessment).

Harrison Carter, co-chair of the BMA's Medical Students Committee, said: "This proposal could successfully provide equal opportunities for those entering into medicine in the UK and could work to reassure patients that those treating them, regardless of where they have trained, are competent and able.”

But he cautioned: “We must ensure that medical students are not subjected to excessive examinations which could distract them from essential medical training.”

Gill Bellord, director of employment relations and reward at the NHS Employers organisation, welcomed the move, and said: “We look forward to working with the GMC to help the examination provide the right level of assurance for employers, ensuring that all doctors have the core knowledge and aptitude to do their job well. Employers will welcome this development and I am sure patients will too, as it will help to drive up standards and consistency.”

Registered in England and Wales. Reg No. 2530185. c/o Wilmington plc, 5th Floor, 10 Whitechapel High Street, London E1 8QS. Reg No. 30158470