Doctors must be GMC-registered before language can be tested

The GMC is warning an EU directive to register doctors before their language ability has been tested raises 'serious concerns' for patient safety.

Niall Dickson: concern over EU language-testing directive

A new EU directive published on Monday will allow doctors with poor language skills to be registered in the UK before their language ability has been tested.

An amendment to the EU directive on the recognition of professional qualifications said that a member state could only test the language ability of a doctor once they have been registered by the GMC.

A GMC-registered doctor is able to work in the UK. If there were concerns over a practising doctor's language skills these should be raised through the GMC's fitness-to-practise process.

The EU proposal said: ‘The checking of language knowledge is to take place only after the host member state has recognised the qualification.

‘In the case of health professionals, it also specifies that it is up to the national health care systems and patient organisations to check whether competent authorities should carry out language controls where strictly necessary.’

Responding to the publication, GMC chief executive Niall Dickson said the proposal regarding language testing would raise ‘serious concerns’ for patients.

‘We will study the detail carefully but it remains our view that the final directive should provide greater safeguards for patients,' he said.

'Over the coming months we will continue work with the UK government, MEPs, other regulators, and EU institutions to ensure that the final version of the directive focuses on protecting patients,' he added.

In October this year health secretary Andrew Lansley announced that all EU doctors who want to practise will have to prove they can speak a good level of English before they are allowed to work in England.

At the same time the DH announced it would give new powers to the GMC to enable it to take action against doctors when there are concerns about their ability to speak English.

Responding to the EU directive Mr Lansley said: ‘For too long patients have been let down by lax EU rules which have allowed doctors to operate in the UK without the necessary safeguards.

‘That's why I am bringing in new rules on checking doctors' language skills and new powers to take action against doctors who can't speak English properly.’

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