Members received a report setting out the outcome of the consultation exercise carried out in relation to potential changes to the Council’s requirements for licensed drivers to demonstrate their medical fitness to drive hackney carriage and private hire vehicles.
The report was presented by the Senior Practitioner (Licensing), Worcestershire Regulatory Services (WRS), and in doing so the following points were highlighted: -
· As part of the Council’s duty to ensure that licensed drivers were “fit and proper” it was necessary for medical fitness to be assessed.
· In terms of measuring fitness of drivers, Redditch Borough Council was amongst many Councils that had adopted the “Group 2” medical standards as set out in the DVLA publication “Assessing fitness to drive – a guide for medical professionals”.
· The Group 2 standards for licensed drivers were equivalent to the standards applied to bus or lorry drivers.
· For drivers licensed by the Borough Council there was a requirement to undertake a medical examination upon application and then every 5 years until the age of 60. From age 60 to 65 a medical examination was required every three years, and over 65 annually.
· The medical examination included a compulsory drug test.
· Although originally there had been two authorised medical practitioners drivers could go to, one of them had retired leaving only one authorised medical practitioner.
Officers had a number of concerns regarding the arrangements including reports from licensed drivers that it was difficult to get an appointment, the distance drivers were required to travel as the surgery was not located in Redditch, and that the remaining medical practitioner in effect had a monopoly. There were also concerns over the frequency of testing which was higher than that set out in the Group 2 standards.
A consultation was carried out between December 2019 and February 2020, and Members were referred to the questions (Appendix 1) and the responses (Appendix 2).
The three issues covered in the consultation and to be considered by the Members were: -
· Who should conduct the medical examinations?
· How often the medical examinations should be required?
· Whether drug testing should continue to be part of the medical examinations, or be dealt with via alternative approaches?
In responding to questions from Members officers clarified that the current medical practitioner was based in Alcester and that the cost of the examination was paid by the drivers. It was seen as a one on one consultation and a key aspect was that whoever carried out the examinations had to be medically qualified and would need access to the driver’s medical records. Alternatives options included in the consultation questions covered drivers being able to use any doctor or their own GP. Members were reminded that continuing to only have one prescribed medical practitioner raised issues around resilience and would lead to difficulties if that doctor were to retire.
It was noted that Redditch was the only council in Worcestershire which included a drug test in the medical examination.
In response to concerns that the number of replies to the consultation was low, officers advised that it was for Members to decide whether they had sufficient information to make recommendations, but that re-running the consultation would lead to delay and might not achieve a higher number of replies.
In opening the debate the Chair referred the Committee to the responses on pages 29 and 30 of the agenda pack and asked members to consider in the first instance whether drug testing as part of the medical examination should continue. On this point members were of the view that the pre-planned nature of the drugs test was a disadvantage and that some form of spot checks or random testing would be much more effective.
With regard to the issue of who should carry out the medical examinations, reservations were expressed about changing the system to allow drivers or applicants to go their own GP. There were concerns that this might lead to a less rigorous application of the relevant standards, and variations in how the standards were applied.
Overall Members were of the view that the preferred option of the four listed on page 29 would be to retain the system of using Council approved medical practitioners but to increase the number of doctors on the list, ideally to a minimum of three within Redditch.
On the issue of frequency of testing, Members considered that the second option on page 30 of moving to be in line with the Group 2 standards as set out in the Department for Transport guidance would be preferable.
Officers be directed to take such steps as are necessary to implement a change to the current requirements for licence holders and applicants to demonstrate their medical fitness to drive as follows:
(1) The Council expand its list of approved medical practitioners with applicants and licence holders having to be examined and certified as meeting the Group 2 standards by one of the approved medical practitioners.
(2) The Council amend the requirement so that medical examinations are required in line with the Group 2 standards set out in the Department for Transport publication “Taxi and Private Hire Vehicle Licensing: Best Practice Guidance” on initial application and then every 5 years once the license holder reaches the age of 45 and annually once the licence holder reaches the age of 65.
(3) The Council remove the requirement for a drug test as part of the medical examination and adopt alternative approaches to drug testing.