Health minister Dan Poulter has announced measures to ensure that doctors can speak English to a level that makes them ‘safe and competent’.
From April 1 there will be a legal duty for the first time on responsible officers to ensure a doctor can speak English sufficiently well enough to communicate with patients, colleagues and the public before they are offered a job.
The NHS Commissioning Board will be the responsible officer for CCGs and GPs.
The Government also plans to give the GMC new powers from 2014 to prevent doctors from the EU from being granted a licence to practise medicine in the UK if there are concerns about their ability to speak English. The GMC is already permitted to make such checks on non-EU doctors. A consultation on new powers will be published later this year, said Mr Poulter.
He added: ‘Patients should be able to understand and be understood by their doctor if we are to give them the best care they deserve. By introducing these steps we will be able to put an end to doctors treating patients without proper checks on their language.’
GMC chief executive Niall Dickson said: ‘This is good news for patients. It will help strengthen patient safety across the UK. We have been working hard for some time to close this loophole in UK legislation which has caused so much concern to patients and their families.’
He added that the new powers would require a change in the Medical Act.
The Government is lobbying for a revision of European Union law so that tougher mandatory checks can be applied to all European doctors when they apply to work in the UK.
Dr Stuart Gray, a GP from Dudley, West Midlands, said that patients will only get rigorous safeguards if both the competency and language skills of overseas doctors are tested. A coroner ruled that Dr Gray’s father, David, was unlawfully killed after German locum Daniel Ubani gave him an overdose of diamorphine in February 2008. Dr Ubani had been denied work in Leeds based on his poor language skills but found work later in Cambridgeshire, where his level of English was not formally tested. The coroner also said that the doctor was incompetent.
Dr Gray said: ‘We don’t know yet what sort of tests will be introduced for the Performers List. I would like to see a national test applying to all regions. But the most important thing is for the GMC to be able to test the competency and language skills of all doctors from other countries. The GMC has said that Italian doctors are not trained in paediatrics, but the GMC has to put them on the register because they are not allowed to assess their clinical competence.’