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College offers GMC new approach in proving surgical ability

29 January 2009

New proposals for how surgeons can demonstrate that they have maintained their skills and are operating safely have been announced by the Royal College of Surgeons. The College is calling on the General Medical Council (GMC) to adopt the principles it has developed, which suggests support for both individual surgeons and NHS Trusts, as it makes preparations to launch medical revalidation next year.

“Learning does not stop for surgeons when they become a consultant. With some 150 new operations being developed over the last decade alone, surgeons constantly adapt to maintain skills and get the best possible results for patients,” said Royal College of Surgeons, President John Black. “As a result the profession has nothing to fear from revalidation and it is only right that the public be given assurance about the quality of care they receive. As the bodies that set the standards for clinicians, the Royal Colleges have a key role in checking that the processes used to revalidate doctors are robust and fair. Our proposals for recertification will support that by providing surgeons with the means to prove their skills regularly as well as identify problems early so they can be improved.”

Medical revalidation is the government’s new public safeguard to formally assess all doctors every five years and is set to come into force in 2010. Doctors will need to be able to prove to the General Medical Council every five years that they are up-to-date and fit to practice medicine. Each NHS Trust will assign a senior person who is directly responsible for revalidation. The Royal College of Surgeons, alongside the surgical specialty associations, is offering to provide expert support to Trusts as well as laying down the standards required to be a good surgeon and providing surgeons with the tools to prove it. Among the College recommendations for surgery are:

  • Each Trust establishes a “Revalidation Panel”, supported by a Royal College of Surgeons clinical representative, to make revalidation recommendations.
  • College support for appraisers so they can get independent advice on standards.
  • College support for surgeons through an e-portfolio system that helps them organise their achievements in the format required and independent advice to guide them through.
  • For surgeons to prove their performance at their elective and emergency operations by measuring their overall surgical outcomes, and systematically reviewing a selection of cases in detail.
  • A new requirement that all surgeons must participate in national audits and registries so personal performance and overall services can be more easily assessed.
  • For surgeons to maintain an up-to-date knowledge of their overall specialty beyond the operations they carry out, take part in peer reviews and review other surgeon’s cases to ensure their techniques and approaches are of the highest quality.

Most surgeons are already fulfilling these standards through existing processes such as “morbidity & mortality” or “multidisciplinary team” meetings, but by formalising and bringing together standards for revalidation surgeons will be able to provide evidence they are delivering high quality care to patients. The precise requirements will subtly differ for each form of surgery and the specialty associations will now take these standards and apply that necessary level of detail for each of their areas.

Notes to Editors

  1. The Royal College of Surgeons of England is committed to enabling surgeons to achieve and maintain the highest standards of surgical practice and patient care. Registered charity number: 212808. For more information please visit
  2. If you have any queries please contact:

Matthew Worrall – Email:; T: 020 7869 6047

Elaine Towell – Email:; T: 020 7869 6045

Out-of hours: 07966 486 832