Press release

New powers to check doctors’ language skills

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

Health Minister, Dr Dan Poulter has today announced new checks to make sure all doctors who work for the NHS can speak English well enough to treat patients.

From April 1st 2013, for the first time, there will be a legal duty to make sure a doctor can speak the necessary level of English to perform their job in a safe and competent manner, before they can treat patients in a hospital or GP practice.

There will also be single national list which every GP will have to be on before treating NHS patients.  Previously every Primary Care Trust held a list of GPs.  One centrally held list will protect patients - ensuring poor performers will no longer be able to slip through the gaps between different local lists.   To be accepted on to this list every GP will have to demonstrate their ability to speak English. 

The Government is also proposing to give the GMC new powers from 2014 to prevent all doctors from being granted a licence to practise medicine in theUK, where concerns arise about their ability to speak English. 

A consultation on new powers for the GMC will be launched later this year.  It will set out proposals for the GMC to be able to insist that a doctor provides evidence of their ability to speak English before a licence to practise medicine is granted, where concerns arise about their language ability.

It will also include plans to create a new category of impairment relating to deficient language skills.  This would allow the GMC to investigate concerns about a doctor’s language skills and apply appropriate sanctions where concerns arise after registration.

All of these new checks will mean that for the first time there will be a comprehensive system so that European doctors wanting to work for the NHS will be have to demonstrate their ability to speak English when applying for a job.

Doctors from outside of the EU are already subject to language checks, but current EU law requires theUKto automatically recognise the medical qualifications of doctors from countries in the European Economic Area - and to register them to work in theUK.  

The Government is also working hard to negotiate the revision of the EU law so that tougher mandatory checks can be applied to all European doctors when they apply to work in theUK.  The Government hopes to have an agreement on a revised directive this Autumn.

Health Minister Dr Dan Poulter said:

 ”Patients should be able to understand and be understood by their doctor if we are to give them the best care they deserve.

“These new checks will ensure that all doctors who want to work in the NHS can speak proficient English and to prevent those who can’t from treating patients.

“There are lots of excellent doctors from around the world working in the NHS - this is simply about protecting patients and having proper checks on a doctor’s ability to speak English.

 ”By introducing these steps we will be able to put an end to doctors treating patients without proper checks on their language.”

 

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Note for editors

For further information please contact Charlotte Newton in the Department of Health press office on 0207 210 4939.

The GMC powers will apply to all EU doctors wishing to register for work in the UK regardless of whether they wish to work in the NHS or otherwise.

The Government plans to undertake a public consultation on draft regulations to amend the Medical Act to strengthen the GMC’s powers in this area.

The proposal is two-fold: (i) Enabling the GMC to undertake checks on language knowledge where legitimate concerns arise about a doctor’s ability to communicate effectively during the registration process. Such checks would be proportionate and applied after registration but before the licence to practise is issued, thus preventing doctors from treating patients where language concerns are identified.

(ii) Creating a new category of impairment relating to deficient language skills, which would be intended to make it possible for the GMC to investigate concerns about language knowledge and apply appropriate sanctions where such concerns arise after registration. Any sanctions are likely to be linked to conditions on, or suspension of, a licence to practise.

The Government Response to the House of Commons Health Committee Report of Session 2012-13: 2012 accountability hearing with the General Medical Council** **can be read on the Department of Health website.  

The Medical Profession (Responsible Officer) (Amendment) Regulations 2013 will come into force on1 April 2013. 

This new legislation will make it explicit that responsible officers have a specific duty so that licensed doctors must be able to speak English sufficiently well to communicate with patients, colleagues and the public before they are offered a job. 

The changes to the Responsible Officer Regulations in respect of language** will apply to all doctors in England - not just those in **the NHS. At a local level responsible officer - an appointed senior doctor - will have an explicit duty to ensure that any doctor employed within a hospital or GP practice can speak the necessary level of English to perform their job in a safe and competent manner, before they can treat patients.

GPs are already subject to checks due to the performers list regulations, but fromApril 1 2013, there will be one national list for the first time, which should make it easier to carry out the necessary language checks.

From1 April 2013, PCTs will be abolished. In order for the performers lists to continue, the National Health Service (Performers Lists) (England) Regulations 2013 will establish the NHS Commissioning Board as the holder of national performers lists.