Press release

Plans for doctors’ language checks published

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

Government plans to introduce new checks on doctors’ language skills took a big leap forward today.

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Government plans to introduce new checks on doctors’ language skills took a big leap forward today as detailed proposals on how the checks will work were unveiled by Health Minister Dr Dan Poulter, following his announcement to tighten rules about overseas doctors earlier this year.

Under the proposals, the GMC would be given new powers to protect the public and carry out assessments before an overseas doctor is allowed to treat patients. The new checks will be enforced where the GMC has cause for concern about a doctor’s language ability.

An NHS survey of senior doctors in 2011, which covered just over half of all doctors, indicated that there were 66 cases in 2011 where senior doctors dealt with linguistic concerns about a doctor locally.

Health Minister Dr Dan Poulter said:

Overseas doctors make a hugely valuable contribution to the NHS but it is clear that tougher checks are needed. We have already strengthened the way doctors’ language skills are checked at a local level.

These new powers are an important step in making the system even stronger by allowing the GMC to carry out checks on a national level before they start work in the UK and prevent doctors who do not have the necessary knowledge of English from treating patients.

Niall Dickson, Chief Executive of the General Medical Council, said:

We are delighted that the Government is consulting on changes to the Medical Act to give us new powers to check the English language skills of all doctors when we have concerns about them. This is an important move that will help protect patients and will be welcomed across the country.

The consultation also outlines proposals for powers allowing the GMC to assess a doctor if language concerns arise during a fitness-to-practise investigation – even if a doctor has been practising for some time. At present, the GMC has no power to require a doctor to undertake such an assessment during a fitness to practise investigation – regardless of nationality. This means it can be very difficult to gather enough objective evidence of language capability to take strong action where there are language concerns.

Taken together, the powers would cover both new and existing doctors and build on changes already introduced earlier this year:

  • In April, the government introduced new rules to ensure that language checks on medical staff are carried out at a local level in England. Responsible officers - an appointed senior doctor - now have 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.

  • Since April, there has also been one, single national list which every GP has to be on before they can treat NHS patients. To be accepted on to this list every GP will have to demonstrate their ability to speak English. One centrally held list will protect patients - ensuring poor performers will no longer be able to slip through the gaps between different local lists.

Today’s consultation will run for 12 weeks, until 2nd December. The changes are expected to come into effect in 2014.

Background information

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

  2. The 2011 survey was conducted by the NHS Revalidation Support Team (RST), part of Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, which is a Department of Health funded body which exists to support the implementation of revalidation. The RST works in partnership with NHS England, the Department of Health (England), the GMC and designated bodies, to deliver an effective system of revalidation for doctors in England. This includes:

  • supporting NHS England, responsible officers and designated bodies to develop the systems and processes to support the implementation of revalidation, and

  • undertaking research to ensure that medical revalidation is implemented in a way that maximises the benefits for patients, doctors and employers.

Published 7 September 2013