Doctors from the EU to face language tests following landmark ruling
Poor English: Daniel Ubani, who gave a lethal dose of morphine on his first shift
Britain has won the right to test foreign doctors and nurses on their ability to speak English following a landmark ruling from Brussels.
There is mounting concern that patients are being put in danger by a ban that prevents watchdogs from checking the language skills of European doctors and nurses.
This was triggered by the death of 70-year-old David Gray in 2008 at the hands of an incompetent German GP.
Dr Daniel Ubani gave him a lethal overdose of morphine on his first shift. Ubani had been allowed to coveran out of hours shift despite having a poor grasp of English and unacceptable medical standards.
Atpresent neither the General Medical Council, the doctors” regulator, nor the Nursing and Midwifery Council, the equivalent body for nurses, is allowed to carry out language tests on workers flying in from the continent as it is deemed to infringe the EU”s “freedom of movement” laws.
But proposals from theEuropean Commission yesterday paved the way for such checks to be carried out. For the first time the EC said that the “checking of language knowledge” can be carried out for the “protection of patients”.
In addition, EU member states will have a duty to alert other countries when a doctor or nurse is struck off so they cannot simply move abroad and carry on working. The proposals will have to be agreed by all EU members before they are made into law and even then it may take several years for the GMC and the NMC to bring in the tests.
Nonetheless,the ruling has been hailed as a major step forward by leading healthcare workers and the relatives of patients who have died as a result of the current lax regime.
The GP son of Mr Gray, Stuart Gray, said: “If the GMC is going to be able to check the language of doctors at registration that is a major step forward for the safety of patients.
But what we push for next is for them all to undergo checks on their clinical competence. My father was killed by a doctor who was found to be clinically incompetent.”
Dr Peter Carter, General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing said: “The ability to communicate clearly with patients is an essential part of good nursing care.”
Tragedy: Dr Stuart Gray, whose father David Gray was killed by German doctor Daniel Ubani
Andrew Lansley, the Secretary of State for Health, announced new rules earlier this year to ensure hospitals language test EU doctors
Earlier this year Health Secretary Andrew Lansley announced new rules that would ensure hospitals had a “duty” to language test EU doctors.
But at the time there was concern that not all trusts would do this – and the rules did not include any provision for nurses.
The current EU legislation bans national tests carried out by the GMC or NMC but it does not prohibit hospitals or primary care trusts performing checks on individuals before employing them.
Under Mr Lansley”s plan, each hospital would employ a “responsible officer” whose job would be to ensure all foreign doctors were tested on English before being allowed to work.
Under these new proposals the GMC and the NMC will be allowed to carry out national tests before doctors and nurses can even be registered. Unless they are registered they cannot even apply for a job.
There are thought to be thousands of European doctors and nurses working in hospitals and surgeries who have never been given language checks.
Figures show that there are some 21,000 doctors on the GMC register who gained their qualifications in EU countries.
Although the Government has urged hospitals and primary care trusts to carry out their own checks on staff before employing them in the absence of a national test, many do not.