GPs who have had complaints or concerns raised about their English language communication skills can from today be made to undertake a GMC language assessment following a change in legislation.
The GMC has said this was a ‘vital first step’ in its campaign for reform of European Union regulations which mean doctors trained in the EU are not required to take a language assessment before being granted a licence to practise, but graduates from outside the EU are.
The regulator hailed the legislation as a ‘milestone’ on the path to reforming EU regulation and gaining the powers to check all doctors’ language skills.
The BMA previously raised concerns during the consultation on the language skills legislation, saying regulations could be ‘open to abuse’ if proficiency was used by employers to block doctors when there has been a historical conflict issue.
The regulator has already updated its guidance on language competence to reflect the change in legislation: it has made changes to the Good Medical Practice gudiance, increased the accepted score for English language tests, and has established ‘a new ground of “impairment” where there are issues with a doctor’s ability to speak, read, write or comprehend English.’
GMC chief executive Niall Dickson explained that the regulator’s new powers did not ‘absolve’ employers of their responsibility to confirm an employee’s competence.
Mr Dickson said: ‘This is an important milestone in creating better, safer care for patients. Everyone has a right to expect to be treated by doctors who can communicate effectively in English and this will help us achieve this.’
‘European law does not yet allow us to check every doctor but that reform will come and this is a vital first step. ‘
‘It is also important that everyone understands this does not in any way absolve those who employ doctors of their responsibilities – they must carry out thorough pre-employment checks and make sure that the doctor is qualified and competent to carry out the duties they are being given.’
Health minister Dr Daniel Poulter said: ‘For the first time ever, we have a full system of checks in place to prevent doctors working in the NHS who do not have the necessary knowledge of English from treating patients.’
‘This is a huge step forward for patient safety. I am pleased to have played my part in making this happen.’