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Clinical competence checks for EU-trained doctors ‘not against rules’

The NHS is able – and should – introduce checks of the clinical competence of EU doctors trained outside the UK, a top official has said.

Health secretary Andrew Lansley announced last autumn that the Department of Health will hand responsible officers powers to ensure EU doctors’ language skills are vetted, but controversially stopped short of testing their clinical competence.

It was understood that EU employment law prohibited the GMC from testing EU-doctors’ clinical competence, but this argument has been dismissed by Michel Barnier, the EU commissioner for the internal market.

In a letter published in the Telegraph this week, Mr Barnier said: ‘EU law does not say that a cursory look at people’s qualifications should be enough to give them a job where lives and health are at stake.’

‘Doctors’ suitability for the role they will be performing should be properly scrutinised by those who will be employing them.’

‘The Telegraph and others have reported that there are unacceptable variations in the ability and training of doctors from abroad and that those with poor language skills are still able to work in the NHS. This is a matter of great concern.’

‘But the responsibility for remedying it lies with the UK authorities and employers. There is nothing in EU rules — agreed with the UK in the first place — which prevents them doing so.’

However a GMC spokesperson said that Mr Barnier’s proposals would not prevent EU-trained doctors registering with the GMC without being subject to clinical competence tests, and would only permit post-registration checks.

Under current UK legislation, the GMC is only able to remove doctors from its register following a fitness to practise investigation, the spokesperson added. The GMC will shortly be publishing its response to EU proposals on vetting doctors.

Last October, Mr Lansley told the Conservative Party Conference that the NHS would introduce mandatory language tests for doctors moving to Britain after training elsewhere in the EU.

The decision was taken in the wake of the unlawful killing in 2009 of 70-year-old patient David Gray, who was given an overdose of diamorphine by German locum Dr Daniel Ubani on his first GP out-of-hours shift in the UK after the doctor confused it with another drug.

Mr Gray’s son, Kidderminster GP Dr Stuart Gray, told Pulse at the time: ‘I have seen nothing from the DH about tackling the clinical competence issue and this is of major concern,’ he said. ‘In my father’s case Ubani was found to be grossly clinically incompetent by both the coroner and GMC.’

‘Loop-holes have been significantly tightened but not closed. The gold standard must be vetting of clinical competence and language skills at the GMC registration stage, as for non-EEA doctors.’