The General Medical Council (GMC) says some overseas doctors come to the NHS with ‘little or no preparation’ for working in the UK.Along with the Nursing and Midwifery Council, it wants the right to test the English language skills of applicants from within the EU in the same way they test applicants from outside of Europe.
But an EU red tape Directive prevents any systematic testing of language skills of doctors from the European Economic Area (EEA).
The GMC says UK legislation – the Medical Act 1983 – ‘gold plates’ the directive and prevents the GMC from doing any language-testing of doctors from the EEA at all.
Employers are allowed to assess the language skills of applicants from the EEA, but it is thought many do not.
A spokesperson from the GMC said: “Doctors who come to work in the UK make a vital contribution to our healthcare system, but we must make sure they receive the support they need to practise safely and to conform to UK standards.”
“It is unacceptable that the current system enables doctors to practise in the UK without a sufficient grasp of English.”
The GMC says some overseas doctors come to the NHS with “little or no preparation” for working in the UK and those trained under different cultural and professional standards need more support.
The GMC is planning a basic induction programme for all doctors – including those who qualify in the UK – to help understand how healthcare is practised in the UK.
A spokesperson from the Department of Health said: “This government is determined to make sure that foreign healthcare professionals are not allowed to work in the NHS unless they have proven their competence and language skills.”
“We do think the Directive needs updating and we are in the process of responding to the EU proposals, but we can’t pre-empt that response.
“We have already taken steps to strengthen the current system by introducing a duty for responsible officers to check the qualifications, experience and references of all doctors, including foreign doctors.”
But poor English language standards are not just an issue among some European NHS staff, for whom English is not their first language.
Asian nurses said they found it difficult to understand European colleagues – particularly those from Eastern Europe.
But when one was asked what a patient meant if they said they wanted to ‘spend a penny’ – slang for go to the lavatory – she replied “they want to spend money”.
A spokesperson from Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, said: “We take patient experience and patient complaints very seriously.”
“We care for a diverse patient population and employ a diverse workforce, and understand the importance of staff being able to talk to patients and their families in an appropriate way.”