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European doctors face GMC language check

European doctors, nurses and other health professionals coming to the UK must meet new patient safety rules

Mark Gould

Monday, 18 November 2013

New European Union laws mean that doctors, nurses and other health professionals moving to the UK from Europe will have to meet new patient safety requirements. The changes will mean the GMC will be able to check a doctor’s language skills before he or she is allowed to practise in the UK.

The GMC says that there are 26,949 doctors from the European Economic Area (EEA) on the UK medical register out of a total of 259,670 doctors as of 13 November 2013.

A new alert system will also be introduced, requiring health regulators across Europe to warn each other within three days when a doctor or other health professional has been removed from its register, or has had his or her practice restricted.

Commenting on the decision, GMC chief executive Niall Dickson, said: "This is a good day for patients. With our partners in Europe we have worked hard to bring about these changes which will close a serious gap in our regulatory defences. Alongside changes to current UK law in 2014, they will give us the ability to check the language skills of doctors coming to work here from Europe. The new alert system is also a big step forward. If we are to protect patients, free movement of professionals must be accompanied by free movement of information."

The GMC says it will work closely with the UK government in the coming months to take the changes forward. The Department of Health and the GMC are consulting on changes to give the GMC new powers next year, which will enable the GMC to check the English language skills of doctors from Europe where there is a concern about their ability in this area.

The European legal change will allow the GMC to go further and require all doctors from Europe to show that they have the necessary language skills. Member states have two years to introduce the changes.

The GMC is currently running a 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 the registration process. This is running alongside the Department of Health’s consultation on changes to the UK Medical Act in line with the current European directive, with changes expected in 2014. The GMC’s consultation will run until 10 December 2013.

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