Safeguards needed in language competency referrals

LANGUAGE competence should not become an "easy" avenue for referring doctors to the GMC, the BMA has warned.

Both the GMC and the Department of Health are currently running separate consultations on language testing that would give the GMC powers to test the language skills of NHS doctors from both within and outside the European Economic Area. The rule changes would include a new fitness to practise category that could see doctors subject to remedial action for failing to have an adequate standard of English.

The BMA states in its response to the DH consultation that while it is in favour of more stringent language testing there must be safeguards.

BMA director of professional activities Vivienne Nathanson writes: "The BMA agrees that it is important for language competence to be considered alongside other aspects of fitness to practise although there does need to be an element of caution with the implementation of this.

"A doctor’s language competence may not be a cause for concern but may be used as a conduit to prevent a doctor from working where an employer may have more general concerns or where a conflict may have arisen."

The BMA believes that any language assessment should be undertaken in the context of the job that the individual doctor is performing and their ability to do that job. Careful differentiation is needed between language concerns and any other underlying problems such as professional or personal issues.

The BMA also calls for a requirement for the GMC to help doctors access expert language training if fitness to practise is found to be impaired for this reason.

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