English language tests for foreign doctors

Overseas doctors who want to practise in England will face mandatory English language tests under new rules announced today by Health Secretary Andrew Lansley.

The Department of Health will give the GMC explicit new powers to be able to take action against doctors when there are concerns about their ability to speak English. All doctors working in the UK must be registered with the GMC but currently only doctors from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) are routinely scrutinised for their language skills.

The new rules will mean that the language skills of all foreign doctors are vetted at local level. NHS doctors are overseen by ‘responsible officers’, who must ensure that they are appropriately trained and qualified for the role. The regulations governing the roles of these responsible officers will be amended so that they have a mandatory duty to check English language skills before employment.

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: "There is considerable anxiety amongst the public about the ability of doctors to speak English properly. We will amend the legislation to prevent all foreign doctors with a poor grasp of English from working in England. If you can’t speak adequate English, you can’t treat patients."

The GMC has welcomed the announcement. Chief executive, Niall Dickson, said: "Until today we had a glaring hole in our regulatory defences - the government has now signalled this will be closed so that doctors coming from the European Union can communicate to the standard required of all other doctors on our register."

"We also welcome moves to make it a legal duty for Responsible Officers to check the communication and clinical skills of doctors and report back to the GMC before they take up a post within the health service in England. As the UK regulator, we are also working with, and have the support of, the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to makes these changes to ensure that patients across all parts of the UK are fully protected."