The BMA’s letter to the junior transport minister

Dr Peter Holden. © BMA

The letter from the BMA’s Dr Peter Holden to Baroness Vere of Norbiton, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State Department for Transport: 

‘Dear Minister,

‘I write as chair of the British Medical Association’s (BMA) Professional Fees Committee regarding the current DVLA backlog of driver licensing applications requiring medical input. 

‘The system was overstretched pre-pandemic but has become significantly worse in the past 18 months. We understand that the current backlog of DVLA applications requiring a medical assessment is now well in excess of 200,000 and rising by thousands each month. 

Baroness Vere of Norbiton

‘Throughout the pandemic, the BMA and the Royal College of General Practitioners offered sustained and consistent advice to GPs regarding workload prioritisation, and DVLA medicals were one of the very few administrative tasks which were deemed to be of priority, given the need to keep the nation’s logistics systems operational. 

‘During the pandemic, special arrangements were made to extend the validity of class II vocational driving licences, but these arrangements have now come to an end and that backlog is compounding the backlog for drivers with a class I licence who are being advised to request from their GP confirmation of fitness to drive under s88 of the Road Traffic Act. 

‘This situation is very unsatisfactory and is compounding an inherently dysfunctional system long overdue for reform. Although the law currently allows medical confirmation from any registered medical practitioner, only the individual’s own general medical practitioner holds the full lifelong medical history of a patient. 

‘Some drivers consult third-party registered medical practitioners who will not have access to the lifelong medical record. While such approaches may appear to be beneficial in easing the current DVLA backlog of cases by expanding the number of avenues through which a driver licensing applicant may obtain medical evidence, it does have significant drawbacks. 

‘The third-party doctor will, of necessity, be basing their assessment on such information provided by the applicant with regard to their medical history. For many years, we have expressed concerns to the DVLA that this style of self-reporting is neither sensible nor safe and we are aware of cases where patients have either forgotten or deliberately withheld salient information and, in rare cases, engaging in deliberate deception in order to obtain a driving licence. 

‘As you are no doubt aware, one very public incident occurred in 2014 in Glasgow – the so-called “Glasgow bin lorry incident” and we have grave concerns that it will only be a matter of time before such an incident will be repeated if current practices continue. The BMA expressed these concerns as long ago as 2005. 

‘We believe that it is crucial for the integrity of the DVLA licensing system and, more importantly for the safety of all, that medical professionals providing medical input into an individual’s suitability to drive have access to all the necessary information contained in a patient’s full medical record. To address this worrying situation, we ask that the backlog be addressed through a safety-first approach. 

‘We seek a process requiring the patient to go through their own GP practice when seeking medical information or reports when applying for a driving licence. This safety-first approach would echo that being introduced by the Home Office for the licensing of firearms and ensure that doctors involved in DVLA licensing process have access to all the information required to make a safe and informed decision. 

‘Clearly, there are many issues which require discussion, and some require policy decisions, and the BMA has been raising this issue consistently with the DVLA for many years; however, significant progress is not being made on this vital matter of road safety. We suggest it might be useful to set up a meeting to discuss these issues and look forward to your early reply.’