Dr Joe Pearson, of D4Drivers based in Shropshire, has responded to reports that over the last decade the number of lorry and bus drivers who have had their licence refused or revoked on medical grounds has more than doubled.
The figures were revealed by the Unite union following a Freedom of Information request to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) and highlighted the impact on the national driver shortage – a situation worsened by the pandemic.
D4Drivers, which has 85 clinics across the UK, works with individuals and training providers to supply the D4 medical to all of those who drive commercially. The medical checks the health of drivers and the results are passed on to the DVLA where the decision is made on whether the driver will be given their licence.
Dr Pearson said: “This FOI request raises concerns about the rising ill-health being a major factor in lorry and bus driver shortages.
“We have been working with RoSPA to highlight how the high levels of heart disease, sleep apnoea, mental illness and work pressures lead to increased sickness, accidents and reduced productivity."
The figures show that in 2005 a total of 4,583 drivers had their licence refused or revoked and by 2018 this number had increased to 12,242.
“Last year the figure was 7,209 but the requirement for drivers to undergo a medical assessment in order to continue driving was suspended from March 2020 to January 2021 due to the pandemic,” adds Dr Pearson. “In order to secure a 12 month extension, drivers had to instead self-certify that they were in good health.
“At D4Drivers we have been aware of this as an issue for quite some time and it is something we have been working to combat. The current requirement for a driver over the age of 45 is to get reviewed every five years, this is dangerously inadequate.
“The most important option that we have introduced is driver screening and we are also very close to being able to provide regular health surveillance and remote medical monitoring to promote wellness and prevent sickness with the obvious benefits to the driver and the company and society as a whole.
“Drivers themselves are responsible for ensuring that they report to the DVLA any condition which affects their ability to drive safely. However, experience tells us that drivers often underestimate or misunderstand the impact of changes to their health or medications, and this can have serious consequences in the form of more ill-health and more accidents.
“The NHS is overwhelmed and it cannot respond to this cohort in a preventative manner, we are ideally positioned to provide primary prevention with early intervention in order to keep our drivers well and your roads safe.
“For drivers who undergo our screening, we provide employers with a fitness certificate if they pass their medical so that a record of their assessment can be held on file and employers know that they are monitoring driver health on a regular basis."
Unite said the figures were “alarming but unsurprising” and raised concerns about the health problems which “are only going to get worse as the average age of the driving workforce increases”.