Language test for doctors

DOCTORS who want to treat NHS patients will have to prove they can speak good English.

The Department of Health announced that, from April, there will be a legal duty to ensure doctors can speak “a necessary level of English” before they are allowed to treat patients in hospitals or GP surgeries.

There will also be a single national list that every GP will have to be on before treating NHS patients. This replaces the individual lists currently held by primary care trusts.

The government is also proposing to give the GMC new powers from 2014 to prevent doctors from being granted a licence to practise medicine in the UK where concerns arise about their ability to speak English. A consultation on the new powers will be launched later this year setting out proposals for the GMC to be able to insist that doctors provide evidence of appropriate proficiency in English.

It will also include plans to create a new category of impairment relating to deficient language skills. This would allow the GMC to investigate concerns about a doctor’s language skills and apply appropriate sanctions where concerns arise after registration.

All of these new checks will mean that for the first time there will be a comprehensive system so that European doctors wanting to work for the NHS will have to demonstrate their ability to speak English when applying for a job.

This will close a loophole that meant, while doctors from outside the EU could face language tests, those from within the EU did not. It follows the case of German Dr Daniel Ubani who gave a patient a fatal overdose on his first and only shift in the UK. He had earlier been rejected for work because of poor English skills.

The government is also pursuing a revision of the EU law so that tougher mandatory checks can be applied to all European doctors when they apply to work in the UK. The Government hopes to have an agreement on a revised directive this Autumn.

Health Minister Dr Dan Poulter said: “These new checks will ensure that all doctors who want to work in the NHS can speak proficient English and to prevent those who can’t from treating patients.

“There are lots of excellent doctors from around the world working in the NHS – this is simply about protecting patients and having proper checks on a doctor’s ability to speak English. By introducing these steps we will be able to put an end to doctors treating patients without proper checks on their language.”

The announcement has been welcomed by the General Medical Council which said the plans were “good news for patients”.

Chief executive Niall Dickson said: “If doctors cannot speak English to a safe standard then the GMC must be able to protect patients by preventing them from practising in the UK.

“At present we can do that for doctors who have qualified outside Europe but we cannot do it for doctors within the European Union.

“[W]e have been working hard for some time to close this loophole in UK legislation which has caused so much concern to patients and their families and we are delighted that the government has decided to act.”