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The licence to practise

What is a licence to practise?

Doctors who practise medicine in the UK need to hold a licence to practise along with the suitable type of registration for the work that they do. It is the licence to practise which allows them to carry out certain activities such as prescribing medicines and treating patients.

A doctor’s status on the medical register will show if they hold a licence or not.

If a doctor does hold a licence to practise, they have to take part in a process which shows us that they are up to date and fit to practise medicine in the UK. They do this by having regular appraisals with their employer and submitting evidence to us. This process is called revalidation. 

Some doctors hold registration without a licence, these doctors should not practise medicine in the UK, but chose to keep their registration to show that they are in good standing with us.

You need a licence to practise to work as a doctor in the UK

You need a licence to practise to carry out certain privileges and duties in the UK. If you are unsure whether you need a licence for your work, you should always seek advice from your:

  • employer or those contracting your services
  • medical defence organisation
  • insurance and indemnity provide
  • independent legal adviser

If you have a licence to practise, you need to maintain it by taking part in revalidation to show us that you are up to date and fit to practise in the UK. Read more about the revalidation process.

Giving up your licence to practise

If you’re not doing work that needs a licence but you’d like to keep your registration with us, you can apply to give up your licence only. Some doctors chose to do this because they want to show employers and overseas regulators that they’re in good standing with us. 

Find out about giving up your licence or registration. 

If you don’t hold registration or a licence you can still:

  • help in emergencies or carry out so-called ‘Good Samaritan’ acts. 
  • sign passport photographs
  • use the title ‘Doctor’.

You should get advice from your medical defence organisation or insurance and indemnity provider if you’re concerned about potential liabilities from helping in an emergency if you don’t hold a licence.

You must always make it clear to others whether you’re licensed or not. It is a criminal offence in the UK to give the impression that you hold registration or a licence if you don’t.

Apply for registration and a licence

Working overseas - guidance for employers

The licence to practise gives doctors legal rights and privileges in the UK only. Doctors who work wholly outside of the UK do not need a licence to practice with us (except in crown dependencies). 

As an employer, you need to make sure doctors meet whatever regulatory requirements exist in the country in which they practise.
Read our factsheet for overseas organisations for more details on the licence to practise and revalidation for doctors who work wholly outside the UK.