EU-trained doctors will be forced to take mandatory language tests before being allowed to practise in the NHS, the health secretary is expected to announce today.
Andrew Lansley is expected to unveil the move, an attempt to avoid a repeat of the Daniel Ubani case, at his speech to the Conservative Party Conference later today. The policy has been long anticipated, with Pulse revealing in June that the GMC expected the DH to sign-off plans for mandatory testing ‘sooner rather than later'.
At the time the delay was attributed to concerns among officials that mandatory language tests would breach EU employment laws ensuring the freedom of movement of labour. However, the European Commission recently announced that the language testing would be legal, giving Lansley the green light to push ahead with the plans.
The health secretary is expected to say:‘I am determined that doctors who come from overseas to work here in our NHS must not only have the right qualifications, but also the language skills to practise here.'
‘We will amend the Medical Act to ensure that any doctor from overseas who can't use a decent level of English is not able to treat NHS patients. This is not about discriminating; we've always appreciated how much overseas doctors and nurses give to our NHS. It is simply about our absolute commitment to put patients' safety first.'
More than a third of registered doctors in the UK complete their primary medical qualification outside the UK, with 564 international doctors and 224 from the European Economic Area registering with the GMC in 2010.
The calls for mandatory language testing have intensified in the three years since the unlawful killing of 70-year-old patient David Gray, who was given an overdose of diamorphine by German locum Dr Daniel Ubani on his first GP out-of-hours shift in the UK after the doctor confused it with another drug.
Mr Lansley is also expected to use today's speech to defend the Government's health reforms, amid fresh criticism from the medical profession. In an open letter to peers, published in today's Daily Telegraph, over 300 public health experts call on the health bill to be scrapped, warning that the reforms will damage patient care and undermine trust in the medical profession.
The letter states: ‘It is our professional judgement that the Health and Social Care Bill will erode the NHS's ethical and co-operative foundations and that it will not deliver efficiency, quality, fairness or choice. We therefore request that you reject passage of the Health and Social Care Bill.'
GMC chief executive Niall Dickson, said: ‘The measures the secretary of state has unveiled mark the culmination of many months' hard work and commitment to close this loophole in UK law, which has been causing so much concern to patients and their families up and down the country.
'While the GMC's Council has been pushing for these changes for some time, we have been very grateful for the continued support of Stuart and Rory Gray. They have campaigned relentlessly with us for these changes since the tragic death of their father. We hope that today's news will provide them some comfort. We will now work with the Department of Health in England and the devolved administrations to make these changes as quickly as possible.'