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EU doctors to be tested on language skills from June

The GMC plans for new language checks on European doctors are expected to come into force in June, following a consultation process that showed strong support for the change in legislation.

The regulator found that 90% of respondents to its consultation agreed that the GMC should be given powers to test the language skills of European doctors applying to work in the UK and remove the licence to practice for those whose English is inadequate.

It also announced that, from this summer, all overseas doctors who take a test to demonstrate their English language skills will need to achieve a higher score on the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) test than they do now.

Under current legislation, the GMC can assess overseas doctors applying to work in the UK, but not those from other countries within the European Union.

The BMA – which originally warned that the language checks could be ‘open to abuse’ – has given its support for the changes.

The changes – which will allow the GMC to test all overseas doctors if they have concerns – have already received the backing of the Government, and the legislation will be drawn up following the consultation.

The GMC also announced that doctors from overseas wanting to practise in the UK will need to achieve an overall score of 7.5 out of 9 in the IELTS test – up from the current score of seven.

A statement from the GMC said: ‘The GMC expects to introduce the checks in June, subject to the legislative process and will communicate with doctors affected by the new rules in advance of them being introduced.’

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the GMC said: ‘Doctors who want to practise in the UK must be able to communicate effectively in English to ensure the safety of their patients.

‘These new measures to ensure doctors from other European countries can communicate in English, combined with the higher test score requirements, will help us strengthen protection for patients. They will also bring about a greater degree of fairness between our requirements for European doctors and for those from outside Europe.’

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, the BMA’s director of professional activities, welcomed the changes.

She said: ‘The BMA supports the introduction of English language checks for European doctors and new plans from the GMC to set the bar higher for all overseas doctors having to take the tests.’

‘It is vital for patient safety that all doctors, whether from the European Economic Area or otherwise, have an acceptable command of English to communicate effectively to ensure the safety of their patients.’