Information from James Farrar of the General Medical Council

Our role

We are the UK-wide regulator for doctors. We work to protect patient safety and support medical education and practice across the UK. We do this by working with doctors, employers, educators, patients and other key stakeholders in the four countries of the UK’s health services.

Our response to COVID-19 so far

Patient safety is our primary concern. This is why we’ve provided coronavirus information and advice, for doctors and patients on our website, explaining how we’ll regulate during this challenging time. This information could help you when responding to your constituents’ questions. You will find:

  • Information for patients. 

  • joint statement with other statutory health and care regulators in the UK. It explains how we’ll carry out our roles as professional regulators during the coronavirus pandemic.

  • joint statement on supporting doctors in the event of a Covid-19 epidemic in the UK. The Chief Medical Officers of the four countries of the UK, NHS England and Improvement’s National Medical Director and the GMC have explained how we’ll support the medical profession during the coronavirus pandemic.

  • Information about our emergency powers.

  • Information for Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board (PLAB) test candidates. The PLAB test, helps us to make sure doctors who qualified abroad have the right knowledge and skills to practise medicine in the UK before they can apply for registration with a licence to practise with the GMC.

  • Information for medical students and how the coronavirus pandemic may impact their education.

  • Information for trainees, as like all doctors they may be asked to work flexibly if the coronavirus pandemic gets worse. To this end, we’ve worked with postgraduate deans[1] to develop guiding principles for those involved in training. 

  • Information on how the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service is adapting in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

  • An update that from 17 March 2020, doctors who are due to revalidate before the end of September will have their revalidation date deferred for one year. We will keep this under review and make further deferrals as necessary.

We’re continuously monitoring the situation and we’ll be updating our public information regularly.

Emergency registration

You will have seen reports in the media, and questions in both Houses of Parliament,about doctors returning to practise as part of the UK government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. We want to explain to you what this means and what will happen. 

Today we wrote to around 15,000 doctors to let them know that we expect the UK government to ask us to temporarily register them, as part of the response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. 

These are doctors with a UK address who left the register or gave up their licence to practise in the last three years. And who don’t have any outstanding complaints, sanctions or conditions on their registration.

We contacted them so they could consider their options. Our communication to them made it very clear that they have a choice about returning to practise; and that they can opt out, or change their mind, at any time.

More information is available here.

About this process

In an emergency the UK government can activate Section 18a of the Medical Act (1983) and ask us to give temporary registration to certain groups of appropriate people, to supplement doctor numbers and provide cover in a range of roles.

The group we’ve identified are fully qualified and experienced doctors of good standing with a UK address, who left the register, or gave up their licence to practise within the last three years. They also don’t have any outstanding complaints, sanctions or conditions on their practice.

Why we’re contacting doctors now

We’re providing information about the process, and how they can opt out. We’re doing it now, so they can decide what they might like to do if we’re asked to give them temporary registration in the future.

We know they’ll also have questions about a range of issues, including what they could be asked to do; terms and conditions of employment; and how doctors will be supported to return to practice. We understand the four UK governments and health services have made rapid progress to address these issues and develop advice. We’ve stressed that this must be in place so that doctors can consider their options. We’ve also made it clear that they’ll need to respond to further requests for information and guidance in the coming days and weeks.

What happens next

If the UK government asks us to temporarily register doctors, those who haven’t already opted out will automatically be given a licence to practise. This means that they’ll be able to work as a doctor, if they’re asked and are willing to do so.

They won’t need to contact us, or pay a fee, or participate in revalidation. We’ll share their details with the health service in the country of their registered address (England, Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales). It will be for them to get in touch with individuals if they want to ask them to return to practise.

Information for doctors

We've published a new web guide to explain more about the registration process It will also point to information from the four UK governments and health services to help doctors access the advice they need about the practicalities of returning to work.

Coronavirus Bill 2019-21

Unlike other medical regulators, we already have emergency registration powers under section 18a of the Medical Act 1983. Therefore, the Bill has limited direct impact on us and our functions. However, it covers a number of relevant areas of our work, and also raises some longer-term considerations, a summary of which you can find here

This is a fast-moving situation and we know it’s a worrying time for patients, the profession and the wider public. We’ll continue to work with our partners in the four countries of the UK, and to update you, as the situation develops.