The GMC has said it will continue to lobby the EU for a change in the law to allow it to language-test doctors, even as another regulator says it has given up.
The 2005 EU directive on the recognition of professional qualifications enabled the free movement of clinicians around Europe, by requiring the GMC and other regulators to accept overseas medical qualifications. But it also bars them from conducting any formal language testing.
As a result, European clinicians may be registered with the GMC, despite struggling to understand English.
The case of Dr Daniel Ubani, a German doctor who accidentally killed a patient on his first UK out-of-hours shift, highlighted the risks of hiring doctors whose English is not fluent.
Polly Kettenacker, EU and international officer at the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), said the regulator had been lobbying the EU to change the directive 'in the interests of patient safety'.
'But we have established that is not going to happen,' she said. The NMC was now focusing on warning employers that professional registration does not imply fluency, she added.
But a GMC spokeswoman said that the regulator's 'long-standing position' was unchanged. 'We want to be able to systematically test doctors' English language ability at first registration,' she said.
'We continue to press for change both as an independent organisation and with other healthcare regulators.'
She reminded employers that they had a responsibility to conduct interviews to ensure applicants' language skills were up to the job. Other regulators, including the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, have issued similar warnings.
The NMC, meanwhile, may write to all employers because it fears some are not sufficiently aware of their responsibilities in this area.
Some nurses currently require interpreters to talk to the NMC, Ms Kettenacker said. 'We know there are people who are on the register whose English is non-existent. We cannot say if they are working.'