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MPs call for improved vetting of out-of-hours GPs

By Mark Pownall

PCTs must face increased scrutiny to ensure they are carrying out proper checks on European GPs who work for out-of-hours services, leading MPs have warned.

An inquiry by the House of Commons Health Committee also calls for legal reform so that the GMC can check language skills and clinical competence of doctors seeking to work in the UK. European legislation prevents the GMC carrying out systematic language testing, but a UK law has blocked even selective testing by the GMC, even where there are particular concerns, the committee's report says.

The committee's inquiry follows the death in 2008 of David Gray, who died of a morphine overdose administered by German out-of-hours locum Dr Daniel Ubani.

Last month Pulse revealed that the GMC had written to PCTs saying they should not wait for legal clarification but immediately ensure the linguistic and professional competence of GPs carrying out out-of-hours services.

The committee accused SHAs of a failure to manage the performance of PCTs over out-of-hours services, and says SHAs and the the Care Quality Commission must ensure PCTs are doing their legal duty and are carrying out language tests and assessing fitness to practice.

The committee said that one PCT who previously employed Dr Ubani had acted illegally by failing to check his ability to speak English. NHS Cornwall and Isles of Scilly also failed to check whether he had applied for inclusion on other PCTs' performers lists. No one at the trust has been disciplined, and no action has been taken against the PCT, the committee said.

A PCT spokesperson said: 'Following this case we have strengthened our procedures on English language testing and these are in line with DH guidance on English language competency and testing.'

Committee chair Kevin Barron MP said: 'It is tragic that it takes the death of a patient to expose the serious failings now evident in the current system for checking language and competence skills of overseas doctors.'

Niall Dickson, GMC chief executive, said: 'As the regulator we must be able to test the language and clinical competence of doctors who qualified within the EEA, as we already do for doctors coming from the rest of the world.'

'It is critical that employers ensure that the doctors they employ are fit to do the job. We have written to all PCTs and employers across the UK to remind them of their responsibility in this area.'

An NHS Alliance spokesperson said: 'All staff should be fit for purpose, whether they are local GPs, locum or agency doctors or from abroad. This requires the GMC to carry out appropriate checks, for PCTs to robustly implement and monitor the regulations of the performers list, as well as good recruitment, induction, training and support for all staff by every provider.'

MPs made key recommendations for the improvement of GP out-of-hours care MPs made key recommendations for the improvement of GP out-of-hours care Download the full report

To download a copy of the Health Committee's full report please click here.