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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.