This site is intended for health professionals only

Legal change allows GMC to check doctors’ English skills

7 July 2014

Share this article

The General Medical Council (GMC) has new powers to check the English language skills of licensed doctors in the UK, following a change to legislation.

The GMC has campaigned for changes to be made to legislation since 2010, after voicing concerns that European doctors were being allowed to register with a licence to practise medicine in the UK without being asked to evidence their English language knowledge. This has been a long-standing requirement for doctors trained outside the European Union.

The GMC is now empowered to direct any doctor working in the UK to undergo a language assessment, should a serious concern be raised about their ability to communicate effectively in English, whether to patients or colleagues.

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the GMC, said: “This is an important milestone in creating better, safer care for patients. Everyone has a right to expect to be treated by doctors who can communicate effectively in English and this will help us achieve this. European law does not yet allow us to check every doctor but that reform will come and this is a vital first step.”

Health Minister Dr Dan Poulter said: “For the first time ever, we have a full system of checks in place to prevent doctors working in the NHS who do not have the necessary knowledge of English from treating patients. This is a huge step forward for patient safety. I am pleased to have played my part in making this happen.”

In anticipation of the legislative change which came in last week, the GMC made a number of changes to its own guidance to ensure that all doctors are aware of their new, explicit duty to have the necessary knowledge of English to treat patients safely:

 – introducing a reference to English knowledge in its core guidance Good Medical Practice.

 – increasing the minimum score accepted on a recognised academic English language test.

 – introducing English Language assessments in its investigations after receiving a concern about a doctor.

 – establishing a new ground of ‘impairment’ where there are issues with a doctor’s ability to speak, read, write or comprehend English.