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Half of EU doctors UK-bound for work fail English skills

GMC says 45% of Euro doctors show lack of English skills

Adrian O'Dowd

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Almost half (45%) of European Union (EU) doctors seeking to work in the UK in the past year have failed to demonstrate sufficiently good English speaking skills, according to the GMC.

The medical regulator has released new figures that show that since new powers were introduced in June of last year, it has prevented 779 European doctors from practising in the UK due to them not providing any evidence of their language knowledge.

This figure represents 45% of European doctors who applied to the GMC for a licence to practise between June 25th 2014 and July 6 this year.

The GMC was given new powers last year to check the English language skills of licensed doctors in the UK. This came after the GMC campaigned for five years to be allowed to ask for evidence of European doctors’ language skills.

If the regulator identifies a cause for concern about a European doctor’s ability to communicate effectively in English, whether to patients or colleagues, it is now able to ask the doctor to undergo a language assessment.

Doctors who take the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) language assessment, must achieve an overall score of 7.5 out of 9 – the score was increased last year from the overall pass score of 7.

Prior to the powers being brought in, these doctors would have been able to secure a licence to practise in the UK.

Language skills of overseas doctors working in the UK hit the headlines after German GP Daniel Ubani accidentally killed a 70-year-old man while on his first UK shift in 2008.

The case led the GMC and RCGP to warn that patients’ safety was at risk and that the current rules needed to change so that EU doctors faced the same checks as those in place for doctors from elsewhere in the world.

A GMC spokesperson said the figures for the number of European Economic Area doctors that the GMC had granted registration to since the changes to the English language checks were introduced, showed whether the doctor was granted registration with or without a licence.

However, the regulator was unable to distinguish between doctors who provided English language evidence, which it deemed insufficient, and doctors who chose not to provide English language evidence.

The new figures also show the top 10 countries for European doctors who were granted registration without a licence.

Among these, only around a third (32.7%) of the 245 Italian doctors who applied since the new rules came in have been given a licence for the UK.

The lowest rate of doctors getting a licence was French doctors – only 10 of the 46 doctors (21.7%) who applied.

The most successful country was Germany, from which 53 of the 79 doctors applying secured a licence to work in the UK (67.1%).

Niall Dickson, GMC chief executive, said: “The fact that we can now check on doctors coming to the UK from elsewhere in Europe is proving effective.

“More than 770 doctors from Europe did not provide evidence of their English language capabilities when they made their initial application and as a result they were not licensed to work in the UK.

“This change does not in any way absolve those who employ doctors of their responsibilities - they must carry out thorough pre-employment checks and make sure that the doctor is qualified and competent to carry out the duties they are being given.”

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