THE GMC will be given new powers to check the English language skills of any doctors before being allowed to practise in the UK under new draft proposals unveiled by the Department of Health.
In a consultation document published this month the Government proposes that the GMC would carry out assessments before an overseas doctor is allowed to treat patients. The new checks would be enforced where the GMC has cause for concern about a doctor’s language ability. This would apply to doctors from both in and outside Europe.
The new powers would also allow the GMC to assess a doctor if language concerns arise during a fitness-to-practise investigation – even if a doctor has been practising for some time. At present, the GMC has no power to require a doctor to undertake such an assessment during a fitness to practise investigation – regardless of nationality. This means it can be very difficult to gather enough objective evidence of language capability to take strong action where there are language concerns.
Health Minister Dr Dan Poulter said: "Overseas doctors make a hugely valuable contribution to the NHS but it is clear that tougher checks are needed.
"We have already strengthened the way doctors’ language skills are checked at a local level. These new powers are an important step in making the system even stronger by allowing the GMC to carry out checks on a national level before they start work in the UK and prevent doctors who do not have the necessary knowledge of English from treating patients."
The GMC has also launched a three-month consultation to seek views on changes which will allow it to check the language skills of doctors from the European Economic Area (EEA) when a concern is raised during their registration process.
Niall Dickson, Chief Executive of the General Medical Council, said: "The safety of patients must always come first. That means doctors wanting to practise in this country must be able to speak English clearly and communicate effectively. If a doctor cannot do this we should be able to prevent them from practising in the UK.
"We have been working hard for some time to close this loophole in UK legislation and are pleased that government has listened to what we have been saying. It has caused much concern to patients and their families and this consultation is the next step in making sure these changes are made as quickly as possible."
Access the GMC consultation at www.gmc-uk.org/doctors/english.asp