In a long-awaited announcement, Andrew Lansley said the GMC will be given ‘explicit new powers’ to take action against doctors when there are concerns about their ability to speak English.
However, the GMC will not be able to systematically test the language skills of European doctors.
The GMC said the plans will plug a ‘glaring hole in its regulatory defences’ that means it is unable to test the language skills of European doctors, even in cases where doctors need the help of interpreters to register with the GMC.
The DoH said it will also introduce new system for employers at a local level to vet all overseas doctors for their language skills.
This will see the role of responsible officers locally amended so they have a ‘mandatory duty’ to check the English language skills of all foreign doctors before they can be employed by the NHS.
Mr Lansley said the new changes will prevent all foreign doctors with a ‘poor grasp’ of the English language from working in the NHS.
He said: ‘There is considerable anxiety amongst the public about the ability of doctors to speak English properly. If you can’t speak adequate English, you can’t treat patients.’
GMC chief executive Niall Dickson said the plans are good news for patients as it will offer them more protection.
He said: ‘Patients in the UK must have confidence that the doctor who treats them has the communication skills needed for the job and that the GMC can take action when they do not have those skills.
‘Until today we had a glaring hole in our regulatory defences - the government has now signalled this will be closed so that doctors coming from the EU can communicate to the standard required of all other doctors on our register.’