Fitness to practice and new doctors

Procedures under consultation for assessing whether training doctors are fit to practice could discriminate against disabled medical students, delegates at the HEOPS autumn meeting heard.

The General Medical Council’s (GMC) ‘Fitness to Practice’ for medical students consultation should have more occupational health input to avoid discrimination, said Dr Susan Robson, OH physician at the University of Manchester.

Dr Robson said a doctor would not be able to achieve all the competencies required with certain disabilities and would be regarded as not ‘fit for practice’. This is despite precedents set by doctors already in practice who have overcome these disabilities and make good practitioners.

Dr Dennis Todd of Queens University, Belfast, outlined the competencies that medical students must achieve to be deemed fit for practice, which included obvious clinical activities such as examining a patient, recording a blood pressure, and a carrying out venepuncture.

However, there was nothing on the mental and physical fitness of the individual about to undertake medical practice.

There is no legal precedent of a doctor being turned down for disability.

Other stories from the event

Screening of new medical students for infectious diseases is costly and not based on evidence, according to Dr Anne Marie O’Donnell at Oxford University. Screening is required by the NHS for all new healthcare workers, but there is no comparative data on screening from previous tests. The laboratory costs of undertaking these tests on a low-risk population of medical students were £11,000. She concluded that there should be a national data collection of medical student screening.

It is difficult to be prescriptive about the numbers of OH staff universities should employ, according to Dr Kathleen Venables, who is leading work for HEOPS on developing guidance for OH provision.

Dr Chris Conlon, consultant in infectious diseases, advised postgraduate students undertaking research abroad to use the NATHNAC website for ongoing information. He gave an ABC for malarial protection:

A – Avoidance

B – Bed nets

C – Chemoprophylaxis.

HEOPS furthers OH best practice in academia and accepts membership from OH physicians and nurses in the sector. Only 30 of 300 academic establishments are regularly represented.

Information on joining is available from Dr Alan Swann at:

General medical Council (2003) Tomorrow’s doctors

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