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.
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 reiterated our 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 acting Chair, Professor Dame Carrie MacEwen also stressed this when she wrote to all registered doctors in October 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 22,000 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 Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board (PLAB) tests we can offer. And we've opened a new circuit in our existing centre as well as running additional tests over weekends.
We’ve also worked with the British Council and our suppliers in the UK and overseas to maximise PLAB 1 tests in venues around the world. In addition, 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 continue to update our coronavirus information and advice for medical students. And we’re working with medical schools, the Medical Schools Council and others to minimise the disruption caused to medical schools on their education and progression.
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. We’ll continue to consider new requests for temporary curriculum changes which maintain standards and patient safety.
Some of the changes (derogations) to training need to continue due to ongoing challenges caused by the pandemic. Read the full statement on continued derogations in medical education and training.
This year’s national training survey data will also inform our work with others to help training recover and to support doctors’ wellbeing.
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 continues to provide doctors and responsible officers with maximum flexibility to meet local needs. If a doctor isn’t ready to revalidate, responsible officers can defer their recommendation without any impact on an individual's 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 using virtual platforms.
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 patient safety concerns emerge or we need to act in the public interest. We've also published updated guidance for our staff on taking into account the impact of the pandemic when considering new complaints.
We continue to progress all cases, but we know that some employers, doctors and other organisations may take longer 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.