Responsible officers to ensure doctors' English skills are adequate

Responsible officers (ROs) will be in charge for ensuring doctors' English skills are good enough, under new proposals put forward by health secretary Andrew Lansley.

Mr Lansley: ‘By giving new powers to responsible officers we can make sure that doctors are competent to work within the NHS'
Mr Lansley: ‘By giving new powers to responsible officers we can make sure that doctors are competent to work within the NHS'

Currently a third of doctors in England were born abroad but only those from outside the European Union are subject to language test.

These ROs, of which there are likely to be approximately 50 for GPs in England, would work with the GMC to ensure doctors have undergone all the right checks including making sure they understand how the NHS and medicines work.

The consultation, which also seeks views on where ROs will work, began today and is due to run for 14 weeks until 25 July. Currently, ROs only work in Primary Care Trusts and Strategic Health Authorities.

The proposals come after Daniel Ubani, a German locum doctor unlawfully killed 70-year-old David Gray by giving him 10 times the recommended dose of diamorphine on his first shift in Britain in February 2008. He was struck off the UK medical register but is still allowed to practise in his native Germany.

Now his sons have lodged a case against the UK and German governments for the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) for infringement of five articles of the human rights convention. They include the right to life and the right to an effective remedy.

Mr Lansley said: ‘Sadly, we are all too familiar with what can happen when qualified doctors don't have a good command of English. This puts patients at risk and I am determined to stop this.

‘By giving new powers to responsible officers we can make sure that doctors not only speak English before they treat patients in this country but are also competent to work within the NHS, making sure that they understand NHS processes and medicines which is as important as language to the quality of care patients receive. I hope everyone gets involved and has their say.’

Chief executive of the GMC, Niall Dickson, said: ‘This is a vital issue for patients, they must be able to have confidence that the doctor who treats them has the communication skills needed for the job.’

Click here to take part in the consultation.

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