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More healthcare professionals set to face English language proficiency tests

New proposals will affect EU-trained nurses, midwives, dentists, pharmacists and pharmacy technicians

Caroline White

Tuesday, 03 February 2015

New proposals will increase the number of healthcare professionals who will have to provide evidence of English language proficiency before being allowed to work in the UK.

Subject to parliamentary approval next month, the proposals should come into force later this year.

Nurses, midwives, dentists, dental care professionals, pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, who have trained in the European Union, and who want to work in the UK, will be affected by the new regulations.

The law currently only allows language checks to be carried out on applicants outside the EU and on doctors from the European economic area.

The proposed changes will allow the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), the General Dental Council, the General Pharmaceutical Council and the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland to ask for evidence of English language competence from applicants trained in the EU who want to register with them, to work as healthcare professionals in the UK.

If an applicant can’t provide evidence of their knowledge of English, they will be asked to take an internationally recognised language test.

Not all EU applicants will be required to sit a language test, but ensuring assessments can be undertaken where there are concerns about their knowledge of English will enable the introduction of a fair and proportionate system to help protect the public, the Department of Health has said.

It recently consulted on these proposals and has outlined a summary of responses received.

Subject to Parliamentary approval, the amendment Order should be in place by March. Following another public consultation the regulators will then amend their own rules, with the new procedures set to come into effect later this year.

Health minister Dan Poulter heralded the change in the law as an important milestone in improving patient safety and care.

“We greatly value the contributions that healthcare professionals from all over the world have made, and continue to make to our NHS, but it is essential that they have a sufficient knowledge of the English language in order to provide safe patient care,” he said.

Royal College of Midwives director for midwifery Louise Silverton said: “Public safety must be the driving force behind this and as such, these proposals make a lot of sense. They will help to ensure that midwives who work in the UK have the level of competence in reading, writing and speaking English needed to ensure good communication with the people they care for.”

But she added: “We do have concerns about where the cost of this additional responsibility for the NMC will be met. We are concerned that this extra cost will be demanded from midwives, who have already faced a 20% increase in the cost of registering to practise in the UK.”

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