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DH wants GMC to begin controversial language testing of EU doctors ‘as soon as possible’

The Department of Health wants the GMC to begin language testing of EU doctors ‘as soon as possible’, after concluding a consultation on the controversial plans.

In its response to the ‘Language control for doctors’ consultation, released today, the DH reaffirmed intentions to hand the GMC legal powers to test the English skills of the 5,000 doctors from within the EU who apply to practice in the UK every year.

This comes despite concerns expressed by the profession, including a warning from the BMA that the regulations were ‘open to abuse’ and could result in doctors being struck off unfairly.

The DH response read: ‘The Department’s view is that the proposed legislative changes will be an effective way of enabling the GMC to ensure the language competence of applicants from the EU whilst still remaining within the confines of European law.’

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‘We therefore plan to continue with the changes as set out in the consultation document to ensure that the GMC can begin using the new powers as soon as possible, subject to parliamentary approval.’

Also responding to the consultation, BMA director of professional activities 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.’

The changes, originally proposed in September, will amend the 1983 Medical Act to give the GMC the power to ‘require evidence of English language capability as part of the licencing process where concerns about language have been identified during the registration process’.