This site is intended for health professionals only

New English test for non-UK doctors announced by GMC

Overseas doctors can now take an alternative English test designed for healthcare professionals, the GMC have announced.

The Occupational English Test, which includes scenarios that doctors may face in the workplace, will join the International English Language Test System as accepted evidence of English ability.

GMC Chief Executive Charlie Massey said, ‘Doctors from overseas make a huge contribution to frontline healthcare in this country, and it is more important than ever to make sure that the path for highly-skilled doctors to work in the UK is as straightforward as possible.’

‘But it is also vital that those doctors coming to work here have a good standard of English. We have reviewed the OET thoroughly and are confident that, as well as giving more flexibility for doctors keen to work in the UK, it will continue to ensure that only those with a high level of English will reach the required standard.’

The GMC have previously caused controversy over the testing of EU doctors on their English proficiency, with some raising concerns that it could be ‘open to abuse’.

Much like the IELTS, the OET is separated into four sections: reading, writing, listening and speaking, and according to the GMC website, doctors are required to achieve at least a B in all four areas.

 The test is already accepted by the UK’s Nursing and Midwifery Council and the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland.

However, the newly accepted language test, which can be taken at 40 locations across the world, is not the final requirement for overseas doctors looking to work in the UK.

If the doctor gained their medical qualification outside of the European Economic Area, they must undergo the Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board test which is aimed at ensuring they have the required skills and medical knowledge.

In January 2011, the Department of Health issued a consultation report which looked at proposed changes to the language controls for doctors.

The report stated that subject to parliamentary approval, the GMC can ‘begin language testing of EU doctors as soon as possible’.

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, who was BMA director of professional activities at the time, 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.

‘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.’