This site is intended for health professionals only

EU doctors are being made scapegoats for OOH failures

Treating all EU doctors as another potential Daniel Ubani is an insult, says Dr Ulrich Veltkamp

Last month, Pulse investigated whether PCTs had learned the lessons from the case of Dr Daniel Ubani. Trusts were asked if EU doctors from outside the UK were working in their area and – if so – whether their language and clinical skills had been tested.

Many PCTs had not tested their performers list and there was an outcry about this ‘scandal’. My town of Warrington was one of them and I am one of the three doctors who qualified in the EU working there as GPs. None of us have been tested by the PCT.

I came to England as a house officer after training in Ancona and Cologne. I wouldn’t say my English was exactly perfect, but I’m sure I would have passed the tests prescribed for non-EU doctors.

I was grateful to get the chance to work here, but also well aware that I was being welcomed because the UK simply wasn’t training enough doctors – and someone needed to do the work.

I went on to work as an SHO, joined a training scheme and qualified as a GP in the same way as my UK colleagues. Language has never really been an issue – apart from the first few weeks when I had to get used to the local accent. I know that my other two EU colleagues have similar stories.

So what’s the scandal? Why would anyone want to test us now?

The standard of teaching in most European medical schools is very good and comparable to that in the UK.

It makes sense to accept those qualifications as equivalent. Not to do so would amount to protecting the domestic labour market rather than protecting patients.

But language competence is a different matter. It should be standard to have a language test before someone who is not a native speaker is allowed to register with the GMC.

Equally, no one who is new to the UK health system should be allowed to work unsupervised at the start – certainly not in general practice, where a working knowledge of the NHS is crucial.

It’s an insult to put all European doctors into the same category as Daniel Ubani. Although the vast majority of them would easily pass a language test, very few would be so reckless as to immediately start working on their own in an unfamiliar health system, in a language that is not their native tongue. Which is exactly what Dr Ubani did.

The scandal is not that German, Spanish, Polish and Italian doctors haven’t been tested by their PCTs – but that out-of-hours contracts have been given to providers who care about money over quality of care.

You have to question the motives of any organisation that employs someone solely on the basis of their registration with the GMC and their inclusion on a performers list.

A simple interview would have uncovered that Dr Ubani was not suitable to work independently in Britain. Why did no one show any interest in checking the quality of the out-of-hours provider?

The idea that simply building barriers against foreigners would sort the problem is nothing but a comforting illusion. The real problem is the way services such as out-of-hours are commissioned – based on the philosophy that cost is everything and safety and quality do not matter. It is the principle of the market gone mad.

By all means, let us make sure that doctors are only allowed to work in this country if they are able to do so. But let us not be diverted from the fact that cut-price medicine kills patients.

Dr Ulrich Veltkamp is a GP in Warrington, Cheshire

Dr Ulrich Veltcamp A strong view about general practice?

Do you have a strong opinion about general practice you would like to share with the rest of the profession? We would be keen to hear your views. Email and outline your proposed opinion piece