Doctors are to be forced to open up their surgeries to an inspection team for the first time under new competency rules to ensure they are not harming patients, it emerged yesterday.
Random checks will see a team of two medics and a patient representative carry out an inspection visit of the doctor's workplace to assess their interaction with patients and general performance.
The Medical Council, the regulatory body for doctors, said it expected these visits would begin at the end of the year and it was another stage in the drive to reduce the risk to patients.
There are around 18,000 doctors on the medical register here but any medic who is practising can be subject to the checks.
The assessment will include an interview of the doctor and third parties, a review of a sample of clinical records and direct observation as they are practising medicine.
A report will be given to the doctor and, based on its findings, he or she will have to put forward an action plan to improve areas of weakness in their knowledge and skills.
The report will then go to the professional competence committee of the Medical Council, which may confirm or change the action plan, which will be monitored.
If there are serious concerns, a complaint will be made about the doctor, which could necessitate them ungergoing a fitness-to-practise inquiry.
A survey of 350 doctors carried out last September found that one-third were still not aware that the performance checks were going to allow for surgery inspections.
Most said these performance checks would help modernise and strengthen the role of the Medical Council in protecting the public and supporting good professional practice.
This comes on foot of the introduction of a mandatory obligation on doctors to produce evidence that they are keeping up to date with their knowledge and skills through attending conferences, courses and reading journals.
Professor Kieran Murphy, the president of the Medical Council, said: "This marks the culmination of a number of years of development work and is a further safeguard, which will help to both protect patients and to promote good professional practice among doctors.
"While doctors endeavour to provide safe, high-quality care, sometimes performance problems may arise.
"Performance assessment will not replace other procedures, which the Medical Council already has in place, but will allow us to work in a more targeted and effective way with doctors who are experiencing problems in some aspects of their practice."