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Brexit could allow tougher tests for EU doctors

GMC considers impact of UK leaving the EU

Adrian O'Dowd

Monday, 26 September 2016

Doctors’ regulator the GMC may be able to introduce tougher tests for European Union (EU) trained doctors who wish to work in the UK as a result of Brexit.

The regulator said at the weekend that it had been considering the possible impact on regulation of the UK withdrawing from the EU.

Tougher tests might be possible before EU doctors were able to come and work here, but this would be dependent on whether or not the principle of free movement was maintained within the treaty of withdrawal, it said.

GMC chief executive Niall Dickson said: “There is no doubt that withdrawing from Europe will have implications for the way that we regulate doctors.

“However it is far too soon to tell what those implications will be. Whatever happens, we want to protect the position of European Economic Area (EEA) doctors who play such a vital role in the UK’s healthcare system.

“We have always argued that we should have the right to test the competence of European doctors, like we do for international doctors, with rigorous assessments of their knowledge and clinical skills.”

However, current European law restricted the GMC from doing that, something which he considered to be a “weakness in the system”.

“At present we must rely on the robustness of the medical education and regulation system in the doctor’s home country for that assurance. It may be possible to conduct those assessments for EEA doctors in the future. However, everything will hinge on whether the principle of free movement is maintained within the treaty of withdrawal.”

The European Commission had wisely brought in changes, he added, such as the introduction of the fitness to practise alert mechanism – which allows regulators across Europe to share concerns about the fitness of practise of health professionals – and for giving the UK and other European regulators the power to require health professionals to demonstrate their ability to speak the language of their patients before granting them entry to practice.

“These checks have been a great step forward for patient safety - since 2014 more than 1,100 doctors from Europe have not met our English language requirements and cannot practise in the UK until they do so,” said Mr Dickson.

“Our language requirements are among the toughest in the world and we keep them under regular review to make sure they continue to be effective.”

Employers also have a responsibility to carry out thorough pre-employment checks and to make sure that doctors are qualified and competent to carry out the duties they are being given, including having the right language skills.

“Medicine is an increasingly mobile profession and we must have systems in place which make sure that all doctors practising in the UK have been examined and evaluated to the same high level,” he said.

“We believe it would be fairer, clearer and more reassuring for the public if there was a single assessment for entry to the GMC register that everyone could rely on.”

Dr Mark Porter, BMA council chair, said: “Doctors trained outside the UK make a vital contribution to the NHS, especially in areas of the health service where there is a shortage of UK-trained doctors, but it is essential for patient safety and confidence in the NHS that all doctors have an acceptable command of English and can communicate effectively with their patients and colleagues.”

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