Foreign Doctors Face Language Tests

New Powers Allowing Regulators To Check Doctors' English Skills Have Come Into Force

26.06.2014

Dave Grimshaw, Press Officer | 0114 274 4397

New powers allowing regulators to check if a doctor's English language abilities are to the desired standard have come into force.

Before this measure was introduced, only doctors from outside the European Union could have their language skills checked by the General Medical Council (GMC), but this now extends to people from all countries - including Spain, Poland and Romania, which has been the source of recruitment for a number of NHS trusts.

The GMC called the change in law an "important milestone" in allowing for improved patient safety across the NHS, reports the BBC.

Niall Dickson, GMC chief executive, said: "Everyone has a right to expect to be treated by doctors who can communicate effectively in English and this will help us achieve this."

The risks involved in not language testing EU doctors were highlighted when German doctor Daniel Ubani gave a lethal dose of painkillers to patient David Gray.

Dr Ubani could not speak English fluently and this was highlighted as one of the main reasons that Mr Gray was killed on the doctor's first shift.
As a German citizen Dr Ubani was not required to undergo the normal language tests that someone from a non-EU country would be predisposed to.

This new law will affect a large portion of doctors working across the NHS. As of the end of April, there were 27,641 doctors registered with the GMC that came from European countries - although most speak English to a high standard.

Health minister Daniel Poulter said: "This is a huge step forward for patient safety. I am pleased to have played my part in making this happen."

It is unclear what the response to doctors with poor language skills will be. They will likely either have their contracts terminated, or be given English training to ensure they are more clear when describing treatment options and prescriptions to patients.

Expert Opinion
Communication is a key issue in healthcare as it is important that medical staff understand what their patient is trying to explain to them and vice versa. Language issues could cause delays to diagnosis or misinterpretation of information and even test results.

“Patient safety should be the number one priority of the NHS and this initiative will hopefully ensure that doctors working in our hospitals are able to treat their patients to the best of their ability.”
Mandy Luckman, Partner