The General Medical Council is to be given new powers to test the ability of European doctors to speak English before they are allowed to treat patients in Britain.
The Government has launched a consultation on proposals to change the law so that although EU doctors will still join the UK professional register automatically, the GMC will have the power to test them before issuing a licence to practise, if concerns over their English have emerged.
Under the new proposals the GMC will also be able to test the English of all those doctors who have worked in Britain for some time but whose language shortcomings have only later arisen during fitness-to-practise investigations.
About 5,000 European doctors a year apply to register with the GMC and although it cannot say how many caused concern over their ability to speak English the regulator highlighted its concerns two years ago when it told a parliamentary committee two years ago of a foreign doctor’s husband who had contacted them to register on her behalf because she could not speak English.
The Government’s plans mean that whilst European doctors’ medical qualifications would remain automatically recognised in Britain under EU law, the 1983 UK Medical Act will be amended to give the GMC extra powers to double-check their English language skills where necessary.
However, the current EU Professional Qualifications Directive already states that: ‘Persons benefiting from the recognition of professional qualifications shall have knowledge of languages necessary for practising the profession in the host Member State.’
The latest proposals follow on from the Government’s consultation last year on amendments to the responsible officer role, in which the DH said language checking should form part of pre-appointment checks by responsible officers
GMC chief executive Niall Dickson said he was ‘delighted that the Government is consulting on changes to the Medical Act to give us new powers to check the English language skills of all doctors when we have concerns about them.’