Identifying poor performance among doctors in NHS organizations

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To account for the means by which poor performance among career doctors is identified by National Health Service organizations, whether the tools are considered effective and how these processes may be strengthened in the light of revalidation and the requirement for doctors to demonstrate their fitness to practice.


This study sought to look beyond the ‘doctor as individual’; as well as considering the typical approaches to managing the practice of an individual, the systems within which the doctor is working were reviewed, as these are also relevant to standards of performance. A qualitative review was undertaken consisting of a literature review of current practice, a policy review of current documentation from 15 trusts in one deanery locality, and 14 semi-structured interviews with respondents with an overview of processes in use. The framework for the analysis of the data considered tools at three levels: individual, team and organizational.


Tools are, in the main, reactive – with an individual focus. They rely on colleagues and others to speak out, so their effectiveness is hindered by a reluctance to do so. Tools can lack an evidence base for their use, and there is limited linking of data across contexts and tools.


There is more work to be done in evaluating current tools and developing stronger processes. Linkage between data sources needs to be improved and proactive tools at the organizational level need further development to help with the early identification of performance issues. This would also assist in balancing a wider systems approach with a current over emphasis on individual doctors.

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