Foreign GPs will face English language test - Lansley

Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley says GPs with poor English are unfit to practise

Doctors with a poor grasp of English will be prevented from working for the NHS in the future, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has said.

He told the Conservative Party conference that GPs would be vetted to ensure they had adequate language skills and could communicate properly.

This follows the death of a man treated by a German locum GP in 2008.

Mr Lansley said the move was evidence of his "absolute commitment" to guarantee patient safety.

He also promised to reduce bureaucracy and spending on management consultants.

The pledge on language skills, which applies to the NHS in England, comes after the case of Daniel Ubani, a German locum doctor who gave 70-year-old David Gray a fatal painkiller overdose on his first and only shift in Britain in February 2008.

Investigations found Dr Ubani had been rejected for work in Leeds because of his poor English skills.

A UK coroner recorded a verdict of unlawful killing and accused Dr Ubani of gross negligence.

GMC powers

The GP was given a suspended sentence in Germany for death by negligence but has still been able to practise there.

In his speech, Mr Lansley said proficient language skills were equally as important as proper medical qualifications when it came to doctors being able to practise in England.

Start Quote

Until today we had a glaring hole in our regulatory defences”

End Quote Niall Dickson GMC chief executive

The rules will be changed to ensure that NHS officials have a duty to check the English language skills of all new foreign doctors before they can be employed, and the General Medical Council will be empowered to take action against doctors when there are concerns about their ability to speak English.

"This is not about discriminating," Mr Lansley said. "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."

Doctors who want to work in the UK have to be registered with the GMC.

Currently, only those from outside the European Economic Area are routinely checked for language skills.

'Upheaval'

The GMC's chief executive, Niall Dickson, said Mr Lansley's announcement was "good news for patients".

He added: "Until today we had a glaring hole in our regulatory defences. The government has now signalled this will be closed so that doctors coming from the European Union can communicate to the standard required of all other doctors on our register."

But for Labour, shadow health secretary John Healey cited an open letter signed by more than 400 doctors and health specialists to the House of Lords urging peers to reject the controversial Health and Social Care Bill in a vote later this month.

"Patients and NHS staff can already see long waits returning and their services being cut back, as £2bn gets blown on an upheaval that no one wants and no one voted for," he said.

"Andrew Lansley and David Cameron are both in denial about the scale of opposition to the plans, and together they have failed to show that they are listening to the ever expanding chorus of concern about the Tories' wasteful reorganisation of the NHS."

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