Doctors, born and working outside the UK, will have to prove they can speak English before they can practise in England under plans set out today by the government and the doctors’ regulator the GMC.
Under the proposals, the task of checking a foreign doctor’s language skills will fall to Responsible Officers (ROs), who have been appointed to evaluate other doctors' fitness to practice as part of the revalidation scheme, due to come into force next year.
Under the proposals, which have been put out to consultation today, ROs will have extra powers to ensure that any doctor working in their organisation can speak English, including those from within the EU.
At the moment, doctors from outside the EU have to take rigorous language tests, but European laws make it illegal to systematically test EU doctors when they register.
ROs would work with the doctors’ regulator, the GMC, to ensure that a doctor working in their organisation has all the right checks, including making sure they understand NHS processes and medicines.
ROs currently work in Primary Care Trusts and Strategic Health Authorities, which will disappear next year in line with the new health and social care legislation. The consultation will also seek views on where they will work most effectively in the new look NHS.
Commenting on the launch of the consultation, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: "Sadly, we are all too familiar with what can happen when qualified doctors don't have a good command of English. This puts patients at risk and I am determined to stop this.”
"By giving new powers to Responsible Officers we can make sure that doctors not only speak English before they treat patients in this country but are also competent to work within the NHS, making sure that they understand NHS processes and medicines which is as important as language to the quality of care patients receive.”
Niall Dickson, GMC Chief Executive, said that this was a “vital issue” for patients who needed to be confident that the doctor treating them had the communication skills needed for the job.
"These changes would significantly strengthen the employer checks in England, with Responsible Officers having a legal duty to work closely with the GMC. These proposals, along with the Secretary of State’s commitment to changing the Medical Act to strengthen our powers, will mean that patients across all parts of the UK receive the assurances they need about the doctors who treat them,” he said.
The consultation will run for run for 14 weeks until 25 July.