Failing to set out a timetable for the future of health regulation will be a 'disaster' for the NHS, a senior doctor has warned.

Royal College of GPs chair Professor Mayur Lakhani told HSJ that trusts and doctors have been left in the dark following the publication of a white paper in February.

Trust Assurance and Safety: the regulation of health professionals proposes a system of revalidation whereby doctors would sit tests every five years.

Professor Lakhani said he supports the changes but is concerned they will be brought in too suddenly, with little notice given to employers or staff.

He said: 'We don't want a big bang disaster like with the Medical Training Application Service. We need a timetable for action from the government and regulators that will set out the milestones we will be working towards.'

He suggested a deadline of 2008 for developing the methodology for appraising medics, with full implementation in 2010.

British Medical Association GPs committee chairman Dr Lawrence Buckman said: 'The heart of this isn't public safety, it's about having an educated workforce. It's creating an environment where we can learn lessons.'

But Dr Buckman, who also sits on the Department of Health's revalidation working group, backed Professor Lakhani's call for a clearer time-scale. He said that bringing in changes without proper warning would 'be resisted very strongly'.

A government response to the white paper is expected this month. There are widespread fears that a snap election could lead to the proposals being further delayed or even shelved.

NHS Employers deputy director Alastair Henderson said there was a 'genuine desire' from the government to bring in revalidation.

However, he felt it may be too early to set a timetable.