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BMA: Language checks on EU-qualified doctors are 'open to abuse’

Plans to allow EU doctors to be referred to the GMC if their English language skills are not up to scratch are ‘open to abuse’ and must include stronger safeguards to ensure doctors are not struck off unfairly, the BMA has said.

The BMA said it was concerned the plans to introduce a new category of ‘impairment based on English language competency’ for doctors from the European Economic Area could be an easy way of preventing them working in the UK for other reasons.

The DH is proposing to strengthen the Medical Act so doctors have to demonstrate English language competency before being granted a licence to practise by the GMC  - currently outlawed under European legislation – and also to introduce a new category of impairment relating to ‘a necessary knowledge of English ‘.

The Government’s plans mean that whilst European doctors’ medical qualifications would remain automatically recognised in Britain under EU law, the 1983 UK Medical Act will be amended  to give the GMC extra powers to double-check their English language skills where necessary.

The plans, first announced by ministers in October 2011, are designed to tighten procedures in a bid to avoid a repeat of the Daniel Ubani case, where a German locum GP killed patient David Gray by administering 10 times the standard dose of diamorphine, on his first out-of-hours shift in the UK.

In a statement on its website, the BMA said that in its response to the DH and GMC consultation - that will be published later this week - would say that that they agreed the GMC needed more powers to take action when language competence becomes a cause for concern, but that the proposals as they stand were ‘open to abuse’.

Director of professional activities at the BMA Dr Vivienne Nathanson said: ‘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.’

She added: ‘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 GMC spokesperson said it would be ‘too early’ to comment on these proposals while their consultation is ongoing.

Readers' comments (5)

  • Director of professional activities at the BMA Dr Vivienne Nathanson said: ‘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.’

    She added: ‘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.’

    REALLLY!!! so BMA... did you not think that this was happening to Asian doctors also or did that not matter to you????

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  • clearly double standards from BMA

    Being an immigrant from African country all my education since kindergarden to university was in English.
    I still had to give IELTS (English competency test), then plabs to prove my medical degree is equivalent to UK medical degree.

    Some of the EU drs would not even pass the IELTS exams which I had to do at British Council in country of residence. GPs from EU contries are also allowed to work in OOH services and GP surgeries without any need to pass MRCGP or an equivalent exam in which English communication is tested.

    Learn to be fair.

    GMC ignored the warnings for long (>15yrs). It has already lead to a death of a GP parent.

    BMA taking lenient stance while GMC are trying to sort this out.

    Will BMA also say the same for my colleagues who have failed CSA on the basis of their communication skills and ask RCGP to take into account other aspects of fitness to practice before failing them!

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  • I work as a GP in Haringey where there are 300 languages spoken. I unfortunately speak only English. I cannot give my best service to the patients whose language I do not share because I do not share their language. Even with a translator you lose the subtle nuances of the interaction. Surprisingly regularly though these same patients who do not have English as a first language tell me it is "nice to see a GP they can understand for a change".

    I also work in a practice with a largely Polish customer base where they are looking for a Polish-speaking GP as they are better suited to the role than myself. A requirement which is entirely reasonable in my eyes too.

    I personally would not choose to work in another country or even another community unless I was easily understood by the local population in the intricate way that can be needed in our profession. I would not feel I was providing the quality of care they deserve as it is so much harder to address those unspoken agendas and reassure them in their fears.

    As the conscientious, intelligent individuals we are supposed to be, I would hope that anyone who is not suited necessarily to their role due to a limitation of language would be appraising themselves in this way too?

    Sadly, perhaps there is potential for abuse of our system in both directions?

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  • Above....you would not be allowed to work in some of these countries without "paying the right people". I visited Bulgaria and was told that to pass your degree you have to "pay" the professor/lecturers and that how well you did depended on how much you paid. Several students all said the same thing so either this was a collective delusion or there was something behind it?? You decide.
    Of course, this will be denied but I was told this in frank discussions with several students.
    And in some other countries, you have to "pay" just to work.
    To all those complaining, be honest and put the risks into perspective compaired to the levels of bribery and corruption in some places.

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  • Surely doctors from EU should have their language skills assessed before they are allowed to practice in UK. If the default situation is that their knowledge of English is OK until proved otherwise we will have more situations like Dr Urbani.

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