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EU doctors to be tested on language skills from June

The GMC plans for new language checks on European doctors are expected to come into force in June, following a consultation process that showed strong support for the change in legislation.

The regulator found that 90% of respondents to its consultation agreed that the GMC should be given powers to test the language skills of European doctors applying to work in the UK and remove the licence to practice for those whose English is inadequate.

It also announced that, from this summer, all overseas doctors who take a test to demonstrate their English language skills will need to achieve a higher score on the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) test than they do now.

Under current legislation, the GMC can assess overseas doctors applying to work in the UK, but not those from other countries within the European Union.

The BMA - which originally warned that the language checks could be ‘open to abuse’ - has given its support for the changes.

The changes – which will allow the GMC to test all overseas doctors if they have concerns - have already received the backing of the Government, and the legislation will be drawn up following the consultation.

The GMC also announced that doctors from overseas wanting to practise in the UK will need to achieve an overall score of 7.5 out of 9 in the IELTS test - up from the current score of seven.

A statement from the GMC said: ‘The GMC expects to introduce the checks in June, subject to the legislative process and will communicate with doctors affected by the new rules in advance of them being introduced.’

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the GMC said: ‘Doctors who want to practise in the UK must be able to communicate effectively in English to ensure the safety of their patients.

‘These new measures to ensure doctors from other European countries can communicate in English, combined with the higher test score requirements, will help us strengthen protection for patients. They will also bring about a greater degree of fairness between our requirements for European doctors and for those from outside Europe.’

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, the BMA’s director of professional activities, welcomed the changes.

She said: ‘The BMA supports the introduction of English language checks for European doctors and new plans from the GMC to set the bar higher for all overseas doctors having to take the tests.’

‘It is vital for patient safety that all doctors, whether from the European Economic Area or otherwise, have an acceptable command of English to communicate effectively to ensure the safety of their patients.’

Readers' comments (3)

  • Una Coales

    It's taken 21 years to see the EU doctor loophole closed, and EU doctors made to sit the IELTS English language test like IMGs. Glad I lived long enough to see the day.

    Now how long before EU doctors are made to sit the GMC PLAB exam to test knowledge and application of NHS medicine like IMGs also had to sit before they could work in a NHS hospital and treat NHS patients. At present EU doctors may join the GMC register without sitting any exam in UK medicine. The drugs here have different names than abroad and the way we treat conditions here in the UK may differ from those practiced in Europe. UK patients deserve to be safe!

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  • Mr. David Gray had to pay with his life in vain to force the system to do something about the issue of English Language skills testing of EEA doctors. Still no medical knowledge will be tested for EEA doctors while IMG doctors from rest of the world need to prove themselves of both the Language and medical knowledge and skills to ensure public safety. Why is this double standards? Why could not they change the law before Mr.Gray was unlawfully killed? Are they waiting for another patient to be killed unlawfully before they do another public consultation and change the other half of the law regarding the medical knowledge and skills of EEA doctors? Patient safety depends on both the components (language and medical knowledge/skills).Changing the rule only for one component will not guarantee the patient safety ,if they are serious about patient safety. Its only common sense, I guess.

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  • I beg to differ when it comes to GPs! My GP isn't from EU, and I often have to ask twice what he mumbles. I am calling your attention to the fact often forgotten to mention throughout the "witch-hunt" of EU GPs: since 2007 PCTs were requiring the proof of the English by IELTS! GPs would not get on Performers List otherwise, as simple as that. The frequency of Dr Ubani's case mentioned literally EVERYWHERE makes one wonder is it one off case? Now could one answer following questions: is Dr Ubani EU graduate? Which recruitment agency qualified him as suitable candidate for the UK work (it was agency!)How could employer in Suffolk take on board GP without UK experience and without rigorous compliance check? Moreover, where was the district nurse, driver, pharmacist? Has anybody asked those questions??? One of the comments here comments on clinical skills of EU Doctors. Have a look at GMC stats: enquiries received by GMC fitness to practice grouped by the "world region" of Doctors PMQ. It might well surprise you...In fact there has always been some kind of ignorance towards EU Doctors. I strongly agree that the filter and practical induction is needed but it has to be useful and practical. It would be an easy and cost effective way to fill in the gaps in the recruitment instead of sponsoring Tier 2 Visas.

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