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English language tests for European doctors

18.09.2013
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GMC seeks views on plans to check language skills of European doctors

Press Release

17 Sep 2013

Patients will be better protected following new checks to ensure the English language skills of doctors from Europe are good enough to safely treat them, in plans revealed by the General Medical Council (GMC).

The safety of patients must always come first. That means doctors wanting to practise in this country must be able to speak English clearly and communicate effectively. If a doctor cannot do this we should be able to prevent them from practising.

Niall Dickson, Chief Executive of the General Medical Council

The doctors’ regulator today launched a three-month consultation to seek views on changes which will allow it to check the language skills of doctors from the European Economic Area (EEA) when a concern is raised during their registration process.

This runs in line with the Department of Health’s consultation on changes to the Medical Act to give the GMC the new powers, which are due to come into effect in 2014. It will mean the GMC can carry out further checks and investigations where it believes the safety of patients might be at risk because a doctor cannot speak English.

Currently, the GMC is able to check the English language skills of doctors who qualified outside Europe, and can refuse to grant those doctors registration with a licence to practise if they do not meet its standards. However, current UK law stops the GMC from checking the English language skills of European doctors – which the regulator is working with the Department of Health to change.

There are over 26,000 doctors from the EEA on the medical register. Although the vast majority of these doctors have the skills, knowledge and experience to deliver excellent care, these changes will ensure that in future, the small number whose English language skills are not at a safe level are unable to treat patients.

Organisations employing doctors will still have a responsibility, as they do now, to ensure all doctors, including those from Europe, can communicate safely in English.

The consultation also outlines proposals for powers allowing the GMC to require any doctor, regardless of their nationality, to be assessed during a fitness to practise investigation. This would include an investigation into their knowledge of English, or where concerns about their language skills arise during an investigation into other matters.

Niall Dickson, Chief Executive of the General Medical Council, said:

‘The safety of patients must always come first. That means doctors wanting to practise in this country must be able to speak English clearly and communicate effectively. If a doctor cannot do this we should be able to prevent them from practising in the UK.

‘We have been working hard for some time to close this loophole in UK legislation and are pleased that government has listened to what we have been saying. It has caused much concern to patients and their families and this consultation is the next step in making sure these changes are made as quickly as possible.’

View the english language consultation.

You can complete your response to the consultation on the GMC’s public consultation site by:

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