English language tests come into force

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25 June 2014

ALL foreign doctors will now be subject to tests to ensure their English language skills are up to standard.

New powers handed to the General Medical Council allow the regulator to test European doctors for the first time. Previously, only graduates from outside the European Economic Area could be assessed.

The GMC has hailed the move as a “milestone” for patient safety that will create “better, safer care for patients.”

They can now order any doctor working in the UK to undergo a language assessment if there are serious concerns about their ability to communicate in English.

Health minister Dan Poulter said: “For the first time ever, we have a full system of checks in place to prevent doctors working in the NHS who do not have the necessary knowledge of English from treating patients.”

The move follows almost four years of campaigning by the regulator for a change in legislation.

The risks of poor language skills were highlighted in the case of German doctor Daniel Ubani who gave a lethal dose of a painkiller to patient David Gray. An inquest in 2010 into Mr Gray’s death recommended greater checks on doctors’ language skills.

Employers will also be expected to play their part. They will have to carry out thorough pre-employment checks and make sure the doctor is qualified and competent to do their job.

Chief executive Niall Dickson said: “Everyone has a right to expect to be treated by doctors who can communicate effectively in English and this will help us achieve this.”

In light of the changes, the GMC now plans to introduce a reference to English knowledge in their core guidance, Good Medical Practice. They will increase the minimum score accepted on a recognised academic English language test and introduce English language assessments in their investigations where concerns are raised about a doctor. A new ground of “impairment” will be created where there are issues with a doctor’s ability to speak, read, write or understand English.

Figures from April show that EU doctors working in the UK most commonly come from Ireland, Germany, Greece, Italy and Romania. There were a total of 95,832 non-UK qualified doctors registered with the GMC. Of those 27,641 (29 per cent) qualified in European countries.

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