Our response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic

Patient safety continues to be our absolute priority. Throughout the pandemic we’ve done everything we can to support doctors in their practice, help employers and the UK health services to prioritise front-line care, and contribute to the long-term sustainability of the UK’s medical workforce.

As we start to emerge from this difficult period, we’ll continue to put patient safety first by helping the system, and those who work within it, to recover.

How we’re regulating during this period

Our approach to regulation remains proportionate, flexible and responsive to the ongoing needs of patients, doctors and the UK’s health services.

We’ve published a joint statement with the other UK health and social care professional regulators on how we’ll regulate during this time, including ensuring that context will be fully taken into account if any concerns are raised. Our Chair, Dame Clare Marx also reiterated this when she wrote to all registered doctors in January 2021 to thank them for their work and professionalism.

We’ve produced COVID-19 specific fitness to practise guidance to support our teams in applying this principle in practice, enabling them to make decisions that are fair and proportionate to the circumstances.

Coronavirus information for patients and doctors

The pandemic has affected the whole UK healthcare system. We’ve published, and regularly update, key information and advice to support patients and doctors through this challenging time:

  • Information for patients on what they should expect from their doctor during the pandemic and frequently asked questions about accessing treatment, remote consultations and vaccines.
  • Information for doctors to support them in their practice, including our guidance on remote prescribing, decision making and consent, end of life care and leadership. It also includes advice on looking after their own wellbeing as they continue to work under incredible pressure.

Temporary emergency registration and provisional registration

In March 2020 the UK government asked us to use our emergency powers under Section 18a of the Medical Act (1983) to give temporary emergency registration or a licence to practise to suitable people, to support the response to the pandemic. We were also asked to give provisional registration three months earlier than usual to medical students graduating in 2020.

Over 25,000 doctors still hold temporary emergency registration or a licence to practise. We continue to be in contact with them to explain how they’re able to use their registration to support the response to the pandemic, and to provide information and advice about moving back onto the permanent register.

We’ve worked with medical schools to support medical students graduating in 2021 through another disrupted year. Provisional registration has returned to its usual schedule, and we’ve engaged directly with students to help them apply and prepare for the next stage of their training, in the Foundation Programme.

Developing a more sustainable workforce

We continue to do all we can to support international medical graduates who want to practice in the UK. We’ve opened a new temporary clinical assessment centre to double the number of socially distanced Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board (PLAB) tests we can offer. We’ve also released as many PLAB 1 places as possible at venues in the UK and overseas, while following government and public health guidance on social distancing and safe workplaces. And we’re being more flexible in our requirements for English language evidence, while maintaining patient safety.

As part of our work to help international medical graduates demonstrate their knowledge and skills, we’ve introduced new routes to the register, which means that doctors who have passed one of our acceptable overseas registration exams may no longer need to take PLAB.

Enabling medical education and training

We’re maintaining high standards of medical education and training and supporting medical students and trainees.

We regularly update our coronavirus information and advice for medical students. And we’ve published a joint statement with the Medical Schools Council setting out our approach to supporting final year medical students to recover lost learning opportunities and achieve the outcomes required for graduation, so that they’re ready to join the medical workforce in summer 2021.

We’ve worked with education bodies across the UK to update our policy on temporary changes (derogations) to postgraduate curriculum requirements, where training has been disrupted by the pandemic. Following this, we’ve considered new requests for temporary curriculum changes which maintain standards and patient safety.

This year’s national training survey data will also inform our work with others to help training recover and to support doctors’ wellbeing, as we move forward from this challenging time.

Flexible revalidation

In 2020 we gave over 60,000 doctors more time to revalidate by moving their revalidation date by 12 months. This meant that no doctor was due to revalidate before late March 2021.

Our approach in 2021 continues to provide doctors and responsible officers with maximum flexibility to meet local needs. If a doctor isn’t ready to revalidate, they can defer their date without any impact on their ability, or licence, to practice.

A proportionate approach to fitness to practise

Our absolute priority remains patient safety. We adapted our processes to make sure that patients could still raise concerns with us, and our patient liaison service continues to support patients on the phone when we’re unable to meet in person.

While we’ve taken a flexible and proportionate approach to investigations, we’ve continued our vital fitness to practise processes to protect the public when an immediate patient safety concern has emerged.

We continue to progress open cases where we can, but we know that some employers and doctors aren’t able to assist with our investigations during this pressurised time. This means that some cases will progress more slowly for the time being.

Supporting medical education and practice across the UK

Our outreach teams are working to support medical education and practice across the UK. Our regional liaison advisers are still available to deliver training and promote understanding of our guidance; and our employer liaison advisers are working with trusts and boards to address local concerns. We’ve successfully moved our popular free Welcome to UK practice workshops online to continue to support doctors new to the UK.