Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has put forward a plan that will see foreign doctors undergoing rigorous language tests before being able to work for the NHS.
Currently, only doctors from outside the EU must take language tests, because European laws make it illegal to systematically test EU doctors when they register. At present, the General Medical Council has no choice but to register all doctors with European qualifications.
But examples of poor language skills can sometimes slip through the net and put patient safety at risk.
Under new proposals from Lansley, a team of ‘Responsible Officers’ would have extra powers to ensure that any doctor working for the NHS can speak adequate English.
The new rules would cover all doctors, including GPs.
The 500 Responsible Officers in England would work with the General Medical Council to ensure that doctors have undergone all the right checks, including making sure they understand the way the NHS works and the medicines it provides.
If an unsuitable foreign born doctor is approved and a patient’s treatment suffers, the senior doctor could be held liable for the mistake and banned from practising.
Experts are consulting over this proposal over the next few months, but the 500 Responsible Officers could be recruited as soon as the summer.
Launching the consultation Mr Lansley said: "Sadly, we are all too familiar with what can happen when qualified doctors don't have a good command of English. This puts patients at risk and I am determined to stop this.
"By giving new powers to Responsible Officers we can make sure that doctors not only speak English before they treat patients in this country but are also competent to work within the NHS, making sure that they understand NHS processes and medicines which is as important as language to the quality of care patients receive. I hope everyone gets involved and has their say."
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