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05-10-2011 | General practice | Article

Stricter tests for overseas doctors


Department of Health

Doctors' leaders have welcomed the government's announcement that overseas doctors will in future face more stringent controls, including mandatory testing of their proficiency in the English language, if they are to practice in the UK.

The changes mean that doctors from the European Economic Area, as well as those from outside, will have to register with the GMC before applying for medical posts in the UK. And the GMC is to be given "explicit new powers" to take action against doctors if there are concerns about their ability to speak English, the Department of Health said.

Speaking at the Conservative Party annual conference, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said that the changes were not about discrimination, but putting patient safety first.

"We have always appreciated how much overseas doctors and nurses give to our NHS," he said. But he added: "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."

GMC Chief Executive Niall Dickson said: "This is good news for patients - the Secretary of State's announcement will mean much more protection."

Dickson said that in the past the GMC had been hindered by a "glaring hole" in regulations that prevented it acting if a doctor lacked the communication skills needed to do the job.

The BMA issued a statement supporting the changes. Chair of Council, Dr Hamish Meldrum, said: "Doctors trained outside the UK make an important contribution to the NHS but it is essential that they are able to communicate effectively with their patients and colleagues."

GP News is an independent clinical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2011

By Caroline Price