Press release

Foreign doctors must prove they can speak good English

New rules will ensure all doctors who want to practise in the NHS in England will have to prove they can speak a good standard of English

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government


All doctors who want to practise in the NHS in England will have to prove they can speak a good standard of English before they are allowed to work under strict new rules Health Secretary Andrew Lansley announced today. The new proposals will ensure that patients are treated by doctors who they can understand, and who can understand them. 

All doctors who want to work in the UK will have to be registered with the General Medical Council (GMC) before applying for medical posts. Currently only doctors from outside the European Economic Area (EEA), for example, doctors from Pakistan, Canada or Australia, are routinely scrutinised for their language skills before being able to register with the GMC. European law prevents the GMC from vetting the language skills of doctors from within Europe. 

The Department of Health will give the GMC explicit new powers to be able to take action against doctors when there are concerns about their ability to speak English.

In addition, the department will introduce new powers so doctors can be vetted for their language skills at local level. NHS doctors are overseen by ‘responsible officers’, who make sure that they are appropriately trained and qualified for the role. The regulations governing the roles of these responsible officers will be amended so that they have a mandatory duty to check the English language skills of all foreign doctors before they can be employed by the NHS in England.

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said:

“There is considerable anxiety amongst the public about the ability of doctors to speak English properly. We will amend the legislation to prevent all foreign doctors with a poor grasp of English from working in England. If you can’t speak adequate English, you can’t treat patients.”

The Department of Health will continue to work with the General Medical Council to implement the changes, so that the GMC has more effective means of ensuring that all doctors practising in the UK have the language skills they need.


Notes to Editors

1. For more information, please call the Department of Health newsdesk on 020 7210 5221.

Published 4 October 2011