Doctors 'need guidelines' on fitness to drive

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Healthcare professionals believe that they need more support in order to advise patients on their fitness to drive.

Healthcare professionals believe that they need more support in order to advise patients on their fitness to drive.

And research conducted for the Department for Transport (DfT) suggests that, although more than two-thirds (69%) of the UK's medical schools give specific training on assessing patients' ability to safely take the wheel, few healthcare professionals are correctly advising patients in all cases.

Studies constructed by Dr Carol Hawley of Warwick University found that, when presented with 12 scenarios based on four medical conditions - stroke, diabetes, depression and epilepsy - only 7.5% of healthcare professionals correctly assessed all 12 patients' fitness to drive. In addition, the tendency was towards rating patients as fit to drive when they were medically unfit. Overall, the report branded knowledge of the medical considerations involved as "poor".

The overwhelming majority both of medical students (92%) and patients with a condition that could impact their ability to drive (91%) said that doctors have a duty to discuss driving fitness with their patients.

The research, first published in January, has returned to the spotlight after a Parliamentary written answer last week. This revealed that the number of drivers aged 65 or under who had had their licence refused or withdrawn on medical grounds had risen dramatically, up from 7,351 in 2005 to 15,632 last year.

Meanwhile, there was a more moderate increase among older drivers, from 6,070 to 9,979 in the same period.

Whil attention has recently focused on the safety of older motorists, past initiatives have suggested regular health checks for all drivers. Among the recommendations of the University of Warwick report are media campaigns to raise awareness of the issue among the public, and leaflets to inform patients. It also suggests changes to medical training and the materials used by practitioners, along with regular visual tests for drivers, and the consideration of a restricted licensing system "for certain medical conditions" - potentially similar to that recently proposed by the Institute of Advanced Motorists.

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