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DH wants GMC to begin controversial language testing of EU doctors 'as soon as possible'

The Department of Health wants the GMC to begin language testing of EU doctors ‘as soon as possible’, after concluding a consultation on the controversial plans.

In its response to the ‘Language control for doctors’ consultation, released today, the DH reaffirmed intentions to hand the GMC legal powers to test the English skills of the 5,000 doctors from within the EU who apply to practice in the UK every year.

This comes despite concerns expressed by the profession, including a warning from the BMA that the regulations were ‘open to abuse’ and could result in doctors being struck off unfairly.

The DH response read: ‘The Department’s view is that the proposed legislative changes will be an effective way of enabling the GMC to ensure the language competence of applicants from the EU whilst still remaining within the confines of European law.’

‘We therefore plan to continue with the changes as set out in the consultation document to ensure that the GMC can begin using the new powers as soon as possible, subject to parliamentary approval.’

Also responding to the consultation, BMA director of professional activities 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.’

The changes, originally proposed in September, will amend the 1983 Medical Act to give the GMC the power to ‘require evidence of English language capability as part of the licencing process where concerns about language have been identified during the registration process’.

Readers' comments (3)

  • Una Coales

    About time too! I have been waiting since 1993 for the DH to close this EU loophole to English language testing in non UK medical school graduates.

    I had to face the ignominy of sitting an English language test as a Londoner whose only sin was to attend medical school in the US, another English speaking country! I certainly shared my thoughts in an essay I was asked to write in my English language test.

    Next would be to ask all EU doctors to sit the PLAB NHS medical knowledge and clinical competency tests as all non UK medical graduates have to sit if they were less fortunate to have obtained their medical degree from America and I speak on behalf of an American Harvard medical school graduate who was fuming to say the least at this EU loophole. He too underwent the PLAB English language test with much resistance!

    And finally, all EU doctors who plan to work for the NHS as GPs should sit the MRCGP exam as all our UK and IMG doctors are made to sit to work as NHS GPs after 2007.

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  • why is it ''controversial''?? So the BMA feels that if you do your degree in spanish in spain you do not need a english language test....but if you do it in spanish in south america you do need an english language test??
    Exactly when did the language test become ''open to abuse' BMA???

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  • Edoardo Cervoni

    I have been lucky in having chosen – and be given the opportunity - to work in many different places during my career.
    This was not a “cost-effective” choice, but it was in several ways “illuminating”.
    It gave me the unique opportunity to see how the healthcare system and medical management may vary from Country to Country. I have observed that there are differences in how we deal with illness as individuals and as a society, as well as the way we prevent its onset. I have also grown to equally respect all those different modalities, and to reject any form of “superiority feeling” when comparing different medical management styles.
    My travelling started as a “mistake”. In fact, it was triggered by two misconceptions.
    I thought of Medicine as a pure science and I deliberated that training at the top institution must have provided me with the right formula to apply to my daily clinical practice.
    I have assumed the grass is always greener on the other side.
    I ended up working in the UK because my “heart”, rather than my profession, took me here.
    20 years ago, after a short visit to London and its major hospitals, I had excluded this would have ever happened. I was not impressed at all then.
    My search for the Holy Grail continued, unsuccessfully, for several years, moving across Continents and always going for the best placements.
    I did not find “perfection” in any system.
    However, I found my wife, and I landed in the very place I never thought I would have worked.
    Things have changed in 20 years. It has changed the way I look at things – I am very much less judgmental nowadays - and the UK Healthcare System, in my opinion, has improved a great deal.
    I want to help improving the status quo far more than I do aspire to contribute to the maintenance of a system as it is, as I believe it to be the “right one”.
    I welcome different perspectives, when they come from patients as well as when they are proposed by colleagues. I can see in them opportunity of personal and professional growth.
    I am a strong supporter of movement of medical professionals between Countries.
    I reject any accuse or allusion that non-UK graduates may be somehow a burden or a risk to patients because they may have received an inferior academic training, or because they may be of “inferior quality”. Those positions are both wrong and offensive.
    I also exclude English exam may be a way to make the NHS a “safer” place.
    I instead propose that it would be mutually convenient to colleagues working for the first time in the UK - no matter how experienced or proficient in English - and to the patients, that full-registration with the GMC of FMG may take place only after 12 months of supervised medical practice.
    I did love to have a supervisor/tutor, and I cannot think why anyone would feel differently.

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