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Language test for overseas doctors

Language test for overseas doctors

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Overseas doctors with a "poor grasp" of the English language will be barred from working for the NHS, under new rules announced by Health Secretary Andrew Lansley yesterday (4 October).

In his address to the Conservative Party during its annual party conference in Liverpool, Lansley said, "proficient language skills were equally as important as proper medical qualifications" when practicing as a doctor in England.

He revealed a commitment to empower the General Medical Council (GMC) to take action against doctors who fail to communicate to the standard required.

"This is not about discriminating," said Lansley. "We have always appreciated how much overseas doctors and nurses give to our NHS.

"It is simply about our absolute commitment to put patient safety first. We will change the law to ensure that any doctor from overseas who does not have a proper level of English will not be able to treat patients in our NHS."

Chief Executive of the GMC, Niall Dickson claims the lack of language controls meant the GMC had a "glaring hole" in its regulatory defences – a hole that the government has now signalled will be closed.

He welcomed the announcement, claiming it to be "good news for patients".

"The government is now committed both to changing the Medical Act, giving the GMC new powers, as well as creating a better system to make sure employers in England only take on doctors who are competent and up to date," he said.

"Patients in the UK must have confidence that the doctor who treats them has the communication skills needed for the job and that the GMC can take action when they do not have those skills."

The British Medical Association (BMA) has also voiced its support for Lansley's proposal, deeming it a "positive way forward".

Dr Hamish Meldrum, chair of the BMA, also hopes the GMC's new powers will extend to doctors working in the UK but not employed by the NHS.

Despite adding its support to the mix, the NHS Employers organisation warns the government that any new arrangements to test a doctor's communication skills must be "pragmatic and workable".

The government must also be mindful it will be required to provide guidance and clarity to NHS employers during this time of change, said Dean Royles, director of the representative body.

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