New powers to check doctors’ English skills a ‘milestone’ for patient safety says regulator
25 Jun 2014
A change in the law today (Wednesday 25 June 2014) giving the General Medical Council new powers to check the English language skills of licenced doctors in the UK, has been hailed as a ‘milestone’ for patient safety by its Chief Executive.
This is an important milestone in creating better, safer care for patients. 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 independent regulator of doctors has campaigned for changes to be made to legislation since 2010, after voicing concerns that European doctors were being allowed to register with a licence to practise medicine in the UK without being asked to evidence their English language knowledge. This has been a long-standing requirement for doctors trained outside the European Union.
Today that inconsistency has been quashed. The GMC has now been empowered to direct any doctor working in the UK to undergo a language assessment, should a serious concern be raised about their ability to communicate effectively in English, whether to patients or colleagues.
Niall Dickson, Chief Executive of the GMC, said:
‘This is an important milestone in creating better, safer care for patients. Everyone has a right to expect to be treated by doctors who can communicate effectively in English and this will help us achieve this. European law does not yet allow us to check every doctor but that reform will come and this is a vital first step.
‘It is also important that everyone understands this does not in any way absolve those who employ doctors of their responsibilities - they must carry out thorough pre-employment checks and make sure that the doctor is qualified and competent to carry out the duties they are being given.’
Health Minister Dr Dan Poulter said:
‘For the first time ever, we have a full system of checks in place to prevent doctors working in the NHS who do not have the necessary knowledge of English from treating patients. This is a huge step forward for patient safety. I am pleased to have played my part in making this happen.’
In anticipation of today’s legislative change the GMC has made a number of changes to its own rules and guidance to ensure that all doctors are aware of their new, explicit duty to have the necessary knowledge of English to treat patients safely. This includes:
- introducing a reference to English knowledge in its core guidance Good medical practice
- increasing the minimum score accepted on a recognised academic English language test
- introducing English language assessments in its investigations after receiving a concern about a doctor
- establishing a new ground of ‘impairment’ where there are issues with a doctor’s ability to speak, read, write or comprehend English
Niall Dickson added:
‘This is not about singling out those doctors who have been trained outside the UK. They have made and are making an invaluable contribution to healthcare in the UK, but we cannot and will not tolerate doctors who cannot communicate clearly with patients and their colleagues - that is a basic component of safe effective practice.’
- At the end of April 2014 a total of 95,832 doctors registered with the GMC held primary medical qualifications from non-UK organisations; of those doctors 27, 641 qualified in European countries.
- At the end of April 2014, the top five European countries of medical qualification for doctors registered with the GMC were:
- Infographics are available on our social media feeds.
- The introduction of the GMCs new powers are a result of four years’ campaigning to amend the law that underpins their regulatory work - the Medical Act 1983.
- The GMC’s strengthened position on English language knowledge was implemented after a public consultation, published on Tuesday 25 February 2014. This drew support from individual doctors, doctors’ associations and organisations representing patients, medical educators and employers.
- Regulators in EU member states, like the GMC, are only able to assess competence in one official language; in this English. This does not prevent employers from encouraging professionals to use or learn a second language, if this would be beneficial to patients.
The General Medical Council is the independent regulator of the UK's 260,000 doctors.
Our job is to protect, promote and maintain the health and safety of the public by ensuring proper standards in the practice of medicine.
We do this by managing entry to the medical register and setting the educational standards for all UK doctors through medical schools and postgraduate education and training. We also determine the principles and values that underpin good medical practice and we take firm but fair action where those standards have not been met. This role and the powers to do it are given to us by Parliament through the 1983 Medical Act.
We are not here to protect the medical profession - their interests are protected by others. Our job is to protect patients. We are independent of government and the profession and accountable to Parliament.
The GMC Media Relations Office can be contacted on 020 7189 5454, firstname.lastname@example.org.
To find out more please visit our website http://www.gmc-uk.org.
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