Driver licence backlog scandal reveals pensioner fitness to drive fears

The UK’s system of assessing whether or not older motorists are secure to drive might not be match for goal, transport ministers have been warned.

Britain’s rising numbers of ageing drivers and the system of assessing whether or not they’re medically match to proceed behind the wheel of a automobile is difficult the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency’s (DVLA) means to make sure they will accomplish that safely.

Fitness to drive fears emerged as MPs quizzed Department for Transport officers and Julie Lennard, chief govt of the DVLA, about delays in issuing driving licences.

The Government licensing company is going through criticism a few huge backlog of outstanding driving licence applications, with 77,000 delayed by greater than three months.

Two-thirds of the functions nonetheless to be handled are from individuals with medical circumstances comparable to epilepsy, diabetes and coronary heart issues, whose functions take longer to overview, MPs have been informed.

Despite establishing a new dedicated unit in Birmingham to cope with the difficulty, Ms Lennard mentioned lots of the delays have been resulting from issues of getting medical specialists to evaluate particular person circumstances.

The DVLA employed 43 medical doctors and eight nurses to look at functions, but it surely additionally needed to write to particular person GPs and specialist consultants to get knowledgeable recommendation on greater than 300 completely different medical circumstances which could make it harmful for a driver to be given a licence.

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At the peak of the pandemic medics’ consideration was elsewhere on treating virus victims and delays started occuring.

GPs’ charges weren’t a part of their NHS contract however amounted to personal work for which they have been paid for immediately by the DVLA, Ms Lennard mentioned. Case data typically needed to be despatched by safe publish for scientific judgements because it was not doable to ship the knowledge digitally. This resulted in delays that they had little or no management over, she mentioned.

There is not any higher age restrict for driving a automobile within the UK however all drivers should renew their driving licence after they attain the age of 70 and each three years from then on. People renewing are requested if there are medical circumstances and should meet the eyesight necessities.

Emma Ward, the Department for Transport’s director of roads, admitted to MPs on the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that the legal guidelines surrounding motorists’ medical health wanted to be re-examined. “We are very concious that the laws underpinning the motive force medical has not been checked out for a really very long time.

“We have an ageing inhabitants, we now have extra people who wish to drive for longer, certainly we now have extra people who maintain licences for a for much longer time period,” she mentioned. “We have a big variety of over-seventies who maintain licences and wish to drive.”

Ms Ward mentioned that she had already put the difficulty on the radar of the brand new Secretary of State for Transport, Mark Harper.

MPs and the DVLA obtained hundreds of letters of complaints because of delays mentioned Dame Meg Hillier, PAC chair, many outlining the tragic penalties of the delays, together with an aged man compelled to spend an additional £3,000 on public transport so as to have the ability to go to his spouse, who lived with Alzheimer’s, in a care residence.

Another story she cited was from a bus driver in south-east London saying he was on the point of dropping his livelihood as a bus driver as a result of he was unable to resume his licence in time.

Julie Lennard, chief govt of the DVLA, mentioned industrial disputes had added to the delays (Photo: DVLA)

Julie Lennard mentioned the DVLA employees have been coping with these letters and hundreds extra and attempting to prioritise them as finest they might.

Dame Bernadette Kelly, senior civil servant on the Department of Transport mentioned everybody concerned have been “effectively conscious that it was greater than only a numbers sport, and that there have been actual individuals with actual penalties”.

The DVLA had a contingency plan earlier than the pandemic which labored effectively for greater than 80 per cent of its work processing licences however that it wasn’t prepared as effectively for workers to make money working from home, Ms Lennard mentioned.

The measurement and sensitivity of the DVLA’s database posed monumental challenges and solely a small variety of employees had begun working with laptops. She mentioned 60 per cent of DVLA employees continued to work from their Swansea workplace after virus safety measures have been put in place.

The DVLA secured a second property close by to extend the numbers coping with functions safely. Ms Lennard mentioned she regretted getting the second workplace in Swansea because it led to higher delays when Swansea and Wales extra extensively registered high numbers of Covid infections in a second wave. “I want, on reflection, we had gotten the workplace in Birmingham first as it will have given us extra resilience.”

The committee heard that an industrial dispute additionally added to their issues. She informed MPs that relations with native representatives of the Public and Commercial Services Union have been good and productive till nationwide full-time officers turned concerned in 2021 following stories of excessive numbers of Covid infections on the DVLA’s Swansea places of work.

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