As of April, there will be a legal duty for foreign doctors who want to treat patients in England on the NHS to be able to speak English to a “necessary” level. This will close a “loophole” that has allowed medics with a poor grasp of the language to treat patients.
The Government has confirmed the legislation after a number of cases where sub-standard treatment was given by doctors with, at best, a shaky grasp of the language.
One involved a German medic, who had been rejected by Leeds Primary Care Trust for his poor English skills, but was taken on elsewhere and killed a patient by giving him a lethal dose of morphine on his very first shift because he was “confused about the difference between drugs used here and in Germany”.
Doctors coming to the UK from outside the EU already face strict language tests but it would appear that doctors from within the European Economic Area have been able to work for the NHS without being asked if they can speak English properly.
However, new powers for the General Medical Council, which regulates doctors in the UK, are being discussed. A change in the law could give it powers to test the communication skills of doctors from within the EU as it already can for non-EU doctors.
While from April, there will be a national list of GPs to prevent doctors being rejected in one part of the country, as in the case of the German doctor, and then getting a job somewhere else. GPs will have to prove their language skills before being put on the list.
The GMC has hailed the move, as it has been been working hard for some time to close the loophole in the law, which it says has “caused so much concern to patients and their families”.
Health Minister Dr Dan Poulter said that the changes in the law were about protecting patients, who should be able to understand and be understood by their doctor if they are to receive the best care.
Mackrell Turner Garrett Solicitors in London
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