November 25, 2004

Call for Legislation to Assess Ability of Doctors

The Medical Council will today ask the Tanaiste and Minister for Health, Ms Harney, for legislation which will allow it to introduce new programmes to assess the competence of doctors to treat patients.

The council's plans include provision for intensive evaluation of the clinical performance of doctors on a random basis.

These proposed intensive clinical assessments would also be introduced for doctors about whom the council has concerns but who are not considered to require full-scale fitness to practise or disciplinary investigations. They would also be available on a voluntary basis for doctors who had been away from practice for some time and who now wished to return to treat patients.

In addition the council will tell the Tanaiste it wants the new legislation, which is planned for next year, to allow for the introduction of requirements for doctors to engage in continuing medical education, carry out regular audits of the practice and undergo peer review assessments.

Participation in this clinical quality assessment programme would be mandatory for doctors to maintain their names on the register of medical specialists.

The president of the Medical Council, Dr John Hillery, told The Irish Times last night that a delegation meeting the Tanaiste today would be asking that provision be made for the new competence assurance schemes in legislation governing the operation of doctors and the medical profession in Ireland which she is bringing before the Oireachtas in the New Year.

The Medical Practitioner's Act is over 25-years-old and it is accepted by both the Department of Health and doctors' group that it is no longer adequate.

Currently competence issues have to be dealt with by the council as part of full, legal fitness to practise procedures.

The council, which is the regulatory body for doctors in Ireland, is also to suggest to the Minister that in future members of the public interested in serving on it could be asked to apply for membership and be interviewed for suitability. At present lay members are political appointees, put forward by the Government of the day.

Under the proposed new legislation around one third of the council will be made up of non medical members.

The new legislation would see fitness to practise or disciplinary hearings against doctors held in public, unless there was a specific reason to hold them in camera.

However, the council is expected to tell the Tanaiste at today's meeting that this issue should be looked at in great depth from both the point of view of the patient as well as the doctor.

The council is concerned about Government plans to extend the Freedom of Information Act to cover its activities, which is expected to take place next year.

The council is seeking guarantees from the Department of Health that its files and reports on doctors who participate in its planned competence assurance schemes should be considered confidential.