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New national board to take on EU doctor checks as Lansley moves to close legal loophole

By Gareth Iacobucci

Exclusive: The NHS Commissioning Board will take on responsibility for testing the language and clinical skills of foreign doctors from within the EU, as part of Government reforms to toughen up checks on those working in general practice.

Health secretary Andrew Lansley told Pulse the planned national board would take over from PCTs in managing GP performers lists, with the Government to negotiate with the EU on an agreement that would allow all European doctors to be tested for language and other proficiencies before entering employment in the UK.

Mr Lansley’s comments mean GP consortia will be spared the responsibility of organising testing for doctors on performers lists, and will raise hopes other PCT managerial responsibilities could also transfer to the board.

Pulse recently revealed fewer than a quarter of EU doctors from outside the UK registered to work as GPs in this country had been tested for their English and clinical competence – exposing PCTs’ lack of action in the wake of the Daniel Ubani case. The Government and GMC have since held talks on how to create a more robust system of checks.

In an exclusive interview with Pulse, Mr Lansley said: ‘We are looking at the NHS Commissioning Board being responsible for language proficiency testing for those who go onto the performers list.’

He said the Government was pushing for a system that would allow employers to routinely test doctors before employment, without infringing European law allowing EU doctors to be registered in the UK without being tested by the GMC.

He said: ‘We’re working closely with the GMC. The EC is very clear linking [testing] directly to entry onto the register is interfering with the ability of doctors to exercise free movement under EU law.’

‘We’re very keen on convincing the EC we can be compliant with the law in spirit and letter if we have a mechanism geared to employment of doctors rather than registration.’

The move to close the legal loophole follows the unlawful killing of 70-year-old David Gray, who was given an overdose of diamorphine by German locum Dr Ubani on his first GP out-of-hours shift in the UK.

In the period before the NHS Commissioning Board is established, Mr Lansley reminded PCTs of their responsibility to ensure all GPs are clinically and linguistically competent: ‘We have strengthened the messages to PCTs that they have legal responsibility and must do it.’

GMC chief executive Niall Dickson said the GMC’s discussions with the Government should not exempt PCTs and providers from their current responsibilities: ‘We’re exploring a number of different options. That doesn’t take away the responsibility of employers in ensuring [doctors] are fit for purpose.’

Watch Andrew Lansley talk about EU doctors

Health secretary Andrew Lansley was speaking exclusively to Pulse Health secretary Andrew Lansley was speaking exclusively to Pulse Watch a video of the interview Health secretary Andrew Lansley