‘Language competency: good practice guidance for employers’ outlines the responsibility for NHS organisations to make sure that anyone working in the NHS has the appropriate level of language skills.
The guidance applies to GP practices and PCTs, with the onus for testing GPs falling to PCTs as part of the registration process for the performers list. However NHS Employers said in reality the responsibility to check GPs' language ability will probably sit with practice managers.
Doctors from the European Community are entitled to register with the GMC, providing they meet the required minimum standards, without any routine language testing.
Doctors from outside the European Economic Areas must satisfy the GMC of their knowledge of English before they can be registered.
However, regardless of whether an employee is registered with a profession regulator such as the GMC or not, employers must still ensure they have the correct level of language competence.
The guidance said: 'Employers have an additional duty to ensure that each individual, whether in a regulated profession or not, is competent to carry out safely and effectively the specific duties of the role appointed to, including establishing suitability of language competence – ‘fit for purpose’ rather than ‘fit to practise’,' it said.
Employers cannot systematically language test applicants from the European Economic Areas. But if there is doubt about an applicant's ability to communicate clearly with patients the employer may request evidence of their language competency.
Dean Royles, director of NHS Employers, said: ‘We owe a debt of gratitude for the contribution that staff from other countries have made over the years to the NHS.
‘This new publication will provide employers with good practice guidance when carrying out an assessment of an individual’s language competency, clarifies the role of the professional regulators and describes the current European law.’
Niall Dickson, chief executive of the GMC, welcomed the guidance. He said it would help employers to ensure doctors had the necessary language skills to practice medicine safely.
‘Patients must have confidence that the doctor who treats them has the necessary communication skills for the job,’ he said.
The GMC recently raised concerns regarding an EU directive which could allow non GMC-registered doctors to practise in the UK.