Half of EU doctors refused UK licence over language skills

NEARLY half of European doctors who applied to the GMC for a licence to practise in the UK over the previous year were refused for not providing evidence of adequate language skills.

In June of 2014 the GMC was given new powers to ensure the English language skills of all licensed doctors in the UK, including those from the European Union. In the interim period since the new powers were introduced the GMC has prevented 779 European doctors (45 per cent of those applying) from practising in the UK as they did not provide evidence of their language knowledge. Prior to the new law these doctors would have been able to secure a licence to practise.

European doctors can evidence their language skills in a number of ways, including provision of an IELTS (English Language Testing System) certificate meeting the GMC’s criteria, proof of having obtained a primary medical qualification where all of the course was taught and examined solely in English, or an offer of employment from a UK healthcare organisation where the employer has provided evidence to satisfy language requirements have been met.

Niall Dickson, Chief Executive of the General Medical Council said: "This has been an important patient safety measure. Doctors must be able to speak English properly. The fact that we can now check on doctors coming to the UK from elsewhere in Europe is proving effective.

"We have also increased the score doctors need to achieve in the international English language test to make sure that only those with a high level of English are able to practise in the UK.

"This change does not in any way absolve those who employ doctors of their responsibilities – they must carry out thorough pre-employment checks and make sure that the doctor is qualified and competent to carry out the duties they are being given."

The GMC now has the right to request a language assessment if there is cause for concern about a European doctor’s ability to communicate effectively in English. Doctors undertaking the IELTS language assessment are required to achieve an overall score of 7.5 out of 9. This score was increased last year from the overall pass score of 7.

There are also now new grounds of impairment where there are issues with a doctor’s ability to speak, read, write or comprehend English. Doctors who are already registered and fail to meet the required standard could put their right to practise at risk.