GMC handed power to ban EU doctors with poor English language skills

The GMC has been granted powers to perform English language checks on doctors from EU countries who wish to work in the UK under reforms hailed as a 'milestone' for patient safety.

GMC chief executive Niall Dickson: milestone for patient safety
GMC chief executive Niall Dickson: milestone for patient safety

Legislative changes that take effect from Wednesday authorise the GMC to compel EU doctors working in the UK to undergo English tests if concerns emerge about their ability to communicate in the language.

Should a doctor fail to provide adequate assurance that they are sufficiently competent, the GMC has the power to stop them from practising and refuse to grant them a license.

GMC chief executive Niall Dickson praised the change as a ‘milestone’ in creating safer care for patients.

The regulator has been pressing for changes to EU rules that barred it from testing EU doctors' ability to communicate in English since 2010. In 2008, German locum Dr Daniel Ubani killed 70-year-old David Gray by administering a fatally high dose of diamorphine during his first UK out-of-hours shift.

Step in the right direction

Dr Stuart Gray, David Gray’s son and a GP in Worcestershire, said the change was a step towards bringing regulations in line with those for overseas doctors from non-EU countries.

He told GP: ‘The GMC sent us an email thanking my brother and me for our help. They said they were acutely aware they couldn’t have made the changes without us.’

Previously, doctors from EU countries were not required to provide evidence that they could speak English when registering for a license to practice medicine in the UK, and the GMC was not allowed to request they undergo any assessments.

Inconsistency over checks

Local organisations were able to test language skills before adding doctors to performers lists, but this led to inconsistencies.

Mr Dickson said: ‘Everyone has a right to expect to be treated by doctors who can communicate effectively in English and this will help us achieve this. European law does not yet allow us to check every doctor but that reform will come and this is a vital first step.

‘It is also important that everyone understands this 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.’

The GMC has also introduced higher language requirements before allowing doctors entry to the medical register.

GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey added: 'This is something we have called for over the last few years. It should ensure that doctors who work in the NHS have the necessary language ability to understand patients needs and treat them properly.'

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