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Tougher language tests for overseas doctors agreed

7 October 2014

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The doctor’s regulator has agreed to strengthen and broaden the test for doctors overseas wishing to practice in the UK.

The review of the Professional and Linguistic Assessment Board (PLAB) test was commissioned by the General Medical Council (GMC) and advises a number of changes that should be made to the current exam.

It is part of a longstanding evaluation of the PLAB examination and aims to ensure that the test is objective, fair and fit for purpose.

Chief executive of the GMC, Niall Dickson, said: “In the UK we rely on the skills, dedication and professionalism of doctors who have trained overseas. At the same time the GMC as the regulator, and employers, must make sure that every doctor practising here is properly trained and skilled to undertake the vital duties they are given. This has been a thorough review and its recommendations, which we fully accept, will help to make our test for overseas trained doctors as robust and effective as possible, ensuring that those who are admitted to the register are of the right standard.

“We have recently increased the English language standard we require from doctors coming here to practice and for the first time doctors from Europe will be covered by this provision. These measures are all part of our efforts to make sure that the patients in the UK have access to good doctors with the right training, attitudes and skills to practise safely and effectively in this country.

“However, there is also a vital role for employers – under current EU legislation we cannot check the competency of doctors coming from Europe and that is a major gap in our regulatory defences. It is vital that employers make sure that the doctors they take on have the skills to do the job for which they are appointed – and even for overseas doctors who do pass our exam, that should only provide assurance that they are at a level equivalent to a UK trained doctor who has just joined the register. In other words they may be an inexperienced practitioner who needs close and on-going support and supervision.

“We are determined to play our part to make sure high standards are maintained and improved, and we will continue to work closely with employers towards the same end.”

The two-part assessment is split into a theory and practice stage and requires completion of both parts to achieve full registration with the GMC.

Chief Executive of Health Education England, Professor Ian Cumming chaired the review group and believes these suggested changes are required to make sure the tests remain “robust in the future”.

The recommendations that the group proposed include:

• Extending the test to examine a wide range of ethical values outline in the Good Medical Practice guidance

• Reducing the variables affecting the practice stage of examination by introducing two examiners to judge candidates performance at each mock clinical station

• Limiting the number of retakes to four tries for the written part of the test.

• Limit the validity period of a pass for both parts of the PLAB test to two years, as opposed to the current three-year mark

Cumming added: “Our review confirms that the PLAB test is an effective method of testing the skills and knowledge of those doctors with international qualifications. However, as with any test of this sort, regular reviews of the programme are required to ensure that it stays robust in the future.

“I am pleased that the GMC is taking forward all of the working group’s recommendations and I am encouraged by their commitment to addressing the complex issues we identified so that the PLAB test remains robust and fit for purpose.”