GMC Welcomes Language Tests For EU Doctors

New Changes Will Mean EU Doctors' Language Skills Are Tested In The UK

19.11.2013

The General Medical Council (GMC) has welcomed new rules that will mean health professionals from Europe have their language skills tested before they are given jobs on the NHS.

Previously, it had been against EU regulations to test new recruits' ability to speak English as it was considered discriminatory against people from other areas of the continent.

But there had been concerns from patients groups and politicians that an inability to test the language skills of health workers, doctors and nurses was reducing the quality of care in A&Es and GPs' clinics across the country.

In addition to these changes, EU lawmakers also voted to introduce a new alert system that will mean health regulators in individual European nations will have to warn each other within three days when a doctor has had sanctions, including bans or suspensions, put on their license.

Previously there had been a number of cases where doctors in countries with less rigorous bookkeeping policies had neglected to tell other EU nations about these sanctions, meaning the health professionals could seek employment beyond their borders.

Commenting on the changes, which will affect some 26,949 doctors from the European Economic Area on the UK's medical register - around ten per cent of the UK's total workforce - GMC chief executive Niall Dickson welcomed the impact it will have.

"This is a good day for patients. With our partners in Europe we have worked hard to bring about these changes, which will close a serious gap in our regulatory defences," he said.

"Alongside changes to current UK law in 2014, they will give us the ability to check the language skills of doctors coming to work here from Europe."

The GMC added it will work closely with the UK government in establishing a testing protocol for new workers, but staff shortages dictate that the tests will likely not be overly strenuous, or A&Es may face further difficulties.

Expert Opinion
All patients on the NHS deserve to have access to a high standard of care and a fundamental part of providing such services is proper communication on their needs and treatment.

"We have sadly seen cases where miscommunication or language issues have had an adverse impact on the care and treatment which patients have received, leading them to suffer serious problems which have left them either seriously injured or in some cases led to fatalities.

"Patient safety must always come first and ensuring that medical professionals have the communication skills they need to provide safe care is absolutely vital. These changes can only be welcomed."
Julie Lewis, Partner