Driven to Despair

This is the title of a report issued by the Parliamentary and Health Ombudsman on October 20th 2016 and the title page describes it as ‘How drivers have been let down by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA)’.

In the Forward from the Ombudsman, Dame Julie Mellor, DBE, says;
“The report highlights major failings in the way the DVLA makes decisions about whether people with certain medical conditions are safe to drive.”

The Ombudsman goes on to say they upheld 8 separate complaints where people with complex medical conditions were unfairly prevented from driving, sometimes for several years, as a result of flawed decisions, significant delays, poor communication and complaint handling.

The DVLA has accepted these findings and recommendations for all 8 cases and in 6 of them has granted the licence applied for, so overturning its original decision. (The remaining 2 cases were still being dealt with at the time of the Report.) However, the Ombudsman outstanding concerns are:

  • There will be other people who have experienced the same injustice and hardship for whom things have not yet been put right.
  • That insufficient action has been taken or is planned by the DVLA to prevent the same failures being repeated and affecting many more people in the future.
  • In particular, further action is needed to improve the robustness of assessments of fitness to drive for people with certain medical conditions and disabilities. Without this there are risks that some people fit to drive will be denied a licence and other people who pose a risk to themselves and others, will be allowed to continue to drive.

Ombudsman’s recommendations

  • Make fitness to drive decisions in accordance with the law and guidance.
  • Operate an open and transparent decision-making process, so that the public can understand the reasons for its decisions.
  • Take relevant factors into account and discount irregular ones.
  • Engage with the public and stakeholders so that there is clarity about its roles and responsibilities and so that licence holders and other stakeholders properly understand what is required of them.

The Report says that investigations have shown that the above does not happen and fault has been found with the way the DMG operates. The DMG is the group within the DVLA that considers whether drivers with a medical condition are safe to drive. The report says that they have seen no evidence that proper standards or criteria are in place for the DMG to meet its required aim of road safety and that they have seen no attempt to relate medical conditions to functional ability to drive safely and there is a lack of assessment of condition specific risks and how these may affect road safety.

Department of Transport response
The Department of Transport has accepted the Ombudsman’s findings about the identified failures but the Ombudsman says that she is ‘deeply concerned’ that it has not accepted the recommendations to put things right by providing justice for everyone who may have been affected or by improving the robustness of the criteria applied in future medical assessments. As a result, the Report was published in the public interest and put before Parliament.

IDDT comments
The report is not specific to diabetes, but IDDT receives sufficient numbers of complaints that people have with the DVLA to support the Report in all that it says. We can only hope that the Department of Transport, the DVLA and its Medical Group take notice and improve the situation.

If you have access to the internet, the Report can be found at:
https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/driven-to-despair