Driver Medicals- Should These be Conducted by your Own GP?

By guest blogger Chris Butterfield

Bus expert Chris was and still is a bus driver who became a transport solicitor and lecturer before his retirement

On 23 August the British Medical Association launched a campaign to persuade DVLA only to accept medical reports completed by a driver’s own doctor. This appears to be part of a wider campaign known as ‘Support Your Surgery’ - encouraging members of the public to support the Association’s call for Government investment in general practice to provide better services.

As every reader knows, an application for an HGV or a PSV licence must be accompanied by a medical report form D4, which at present can be completed by any qualified doctor. Whether the campaign will gain much traction remains to be seen: a BMA spokesman did get a slot on Breakfast TV and there has been some press coverage.

Reference was made to the Glasgow bin lorry incident in 2014, when the driver passed out at the wheel. He had previously done so at the wheel of a bus, although while it was stationary, and never disclosed this to his new employer, nor to DVLA when renewing his licence. The inquiry that followed established that the driver had lied to his own GP (by saying he had passed out in the canteen), rather than lying to another doctor completing the D4 medical form.

Is this just a case of a trade union promoting its members own interests or is there a genuine benefit to the medical being conducted by own GP’s? The BMA has so far been silent on the matters of cost, convenience, competence and consistency. Let’s examine those key considerations in turn.

i. Cost

The D4 medical form must be completed by a qualified medical practitioner. A number have established niche practices dedicated to driver licence medicals. There are two within 20 minutes’ drive of the offices of C E Transport Law. One charges £40, the other £55. Both fees include the eyesight test. By contrast, your GP can charge whatever he or she wishes. I visited a random selection of medical centre websites throughout the country to see what fees they quoted. One was a relatively modest £75. All others were into three figures – up to £135. And that was without the eyesight test, which can add £10 - £25 for an optician. With an increased cost of between £40 to £120 on my own dip sample– is it any wonder drivers increasingly choose not to go to their GP?

ii. Convenience

These niche practices offer appointments at short notice, in the evening or at weekends. By contrast one of the medical centres I spoke to warned of a four week wait for a driver medical appointment. No driver can risk waiting that long.

iii. Competence

The specialist doctors in niche practices know their way round form D4. It has in recent times been changed on average once each year, and they keep up to date with the changes. But the average GP completes only a few each year; mistakes are commonplace, leading to forms being returned to drivers for correction. One driver I know, when told by DVLA his doctor had made a mistake returned to the surgery for it to be corrected. The doctor was on holiday. His request for a replacement medical was refused. By the time the doctor returned, his old licence had expired, and he was unlicensed and unable to drive. Similar tales abound.

The last time I went to my own GP for the report to be completed, he made a mistake. Fortunately, I read through the form before posting it back to Swansea, noticed the error and got it corrected.

Is it any wonder that I now choose to go to one of the specialist surgeries? My form is checked twice before I leave the building – once by the doctor and again by the receptionist, who knows the form as well as the examining Doctor.

iv. Consistency

The BMA argues that the form should be completed by a doctor with the driver’s full medical history to hand. But how does this compare to the car driver? On reaching the age of 70, every motorist has to renew his or her licence, and thereafter every 3 years.

A health declaration must be completed by the car driver, answering the same questions as the bus or truck driver has to answer on form D47P. But this is self-assessment. If the BMA believes that the truck or bus driver should consult their own GP, should the BMA not be arguing for that form to be completed by, or in front of, the car driver’s own GP?

When considering all the factors involved, it appears to be another case of the bus and truck driver chosen to be targeted.

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