Working with doctors Working for patients

Our role

We are an independent organisation that helps to protect patients and improve medical education and practice across the UK.

  • We decide which doctors are qualified to work here and we oversee UK medical education and training.
  • We set the standards that doctors need to follow, and make sure that they continue to meet these standards throughout their careers.
  • We take action to prevent a doctor from putting the safety of patients, or the public's confidence in doctors, at risk.

Every patient should receive a high standard of care. Our role is to help achieve that by working closely with doctors, their employers and patients, to make sure that the trust patients have in their doctors is fully justified.

How we deliver our role

Setting the standards for doctors

Our standards define what makes a good doctor by setting out the professional values, knowledge, skills and behaviours required of all doctors working in the UK.

We consult with a wide range of people, including patients, doctors, employers and educators to develop our standards and guidance.

The core professional standards expected of all doctors are set out in Good medical practice which covers fundamental aspects of a doctor’s role, including working in partnership with patients and treating them with respect.

We provide detailed guidance on ethical principles that most doctors will use every day, such as consent and confidentiality, and specific guidance on a range of areas such as raising concerns about patient safety, doctors’ child protection responsibilities, and providing care for people who are dying.

We also develop case scenarios and tools that help doctors apply the principles in their practice.

Serious or persistent failure to follow our guidance will put a doctor’s registration at risk.

Read more about Good medical practice and the standards we set.

Overseeing doctors' education and training

We set the educational standards for all UK doctors through undergraduate and postgraduate education and training.

We promote high standards and make sure that medical education and training reflects the needs of patients, medical students and doctors in training, and the healthcare systems across the UK.

To test whether or not medical schools meet our standards for undergraduate education we carry out monitoring and inspections, including talking to medical students about their experiences, and responding directly to any concerns raised.

We also approve postgraduate medical education and training – this includes approving training posts, programmes and assessments.

Rigorous reviews and regular monitoring activities, such as our annual survey of doctors in training, help us to deal quickly with any concerns and to make sure that doctors are receiving the supervision and experience they need to treat patients safely and well.

Doctors need to keep their knowledge and skills up to date throughout their careers. We support them by developing learning resources and giving advice about continuing professional development.

Read more about our role in medical education and training.

Managing the UK medical register

There are 270,000 doctors on the UK medical register. We check every doctor’s identity and qualifications before they are able to join the register.

We also check with others, such as the doctor’s medical school or previous employers, to find out if they have any concerns about the doctor’s ability to practise safely, for example inappropriate behaviour, serious health problems, or performance.

We keep track of changes to doctors’ records to make sure that the medical register is accurate and up to date.

Read more about the medical register.

Investigating and acting on concerns about doctors

When a serious concern is raised about a doctor’s behaviour, health or performance, we investigate to see if the doctor is putting the safety of patients, or the public’s confidence in doctors, at risk.

We collect and review evidence, such as witness statements and reports from experts in clinical matters. Following the investigation we may issue advice or a warning to the doctor, or we may agree with the doctor that he or she will restrict their practice, retrain or work under supervision.

In some cases, we will refer the case to the Medical Practitioners’ Tribunal Service (MPTS) for a hearing.

When action is needed to protect the public or to maintain public confidence in doctors, an MPTS tribunal can suspend a doctor’s right to work, or restrict their practice – for example by requiring them to work under supervision, or undergo further training.

If necessary, a tribunal can also suspend or restrict a doctor’s right to work while the investigation is conducted.

In a few very serious cases, a doctor may be removed from the medical register – often this is described as being ‘struck off’ the register. This means they are no longer able to work as a doctor in the UK. We always inform other regulators around the world when this has happened.

Read more about our role investigating and acting on concerns about doctors.

Helping to raise standards through revalidation

It is important that every doctor practising in the UK is competent and that their knowledge and skills are up to date.

We work with employers to make sure every doctor has an annual check or appraisal.

Every five years, we ask for formal confirmation that each doctor is following the standards set out in Good medical practice – this covers

  • knowledge, skills and performance;
  • safety and quality; communications,
  • partnership and teamwork; and
  • maintaining trust.

This system of checks is called revalidation. It gives doctors the opportunity to reflect on their practice, including feedback from colleagues and patients.

Over time, revalidation should help to drive up the standards of care that doctors provide, by helping to identify problems earlier and by helping all doctors to reflect on their practice, understand what they do well and how they can improve.

Read more about revalidation.