New rules to help check foreign doctors' English language skills are a "huge step forward for patient safety", the Health Minister has said.
Previously EU doctors could practise in the UK without having to pass a language test, while those from outside Europe could be made to prove their grasp of English..
The new powers mean the General Medical Council can order a language test if "serious concerns" are raised about a doctor.
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," he added.
As many as two million people have to wait up to three weeks for an appointment with a GP, a survey has found.
Half a million face a wait of up to a month to see their family doctor, while only one in three patients is able to secure a same-day appointment.
The research, carried out by the Daily Mail and over-50s group Saga, found that 20% of people cannot get a consultation within seven days.
Last week the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) claimed more than 34 million people will this year fail to get an appointment with their GP when they seek one.[
Dirty stethoscopes may be contributing to spread dangerous bugs around GP surgeries and hospital wards, according to a new study.
One stethoscope was found to be more contaminated with bacteria than the palm of a doctor's hand after being used to examine 71 patients.
Among the microbes spreading from patients was the potentially deadly superbug MRSA.
The stethoscope's diaphragm, the part of the instrument that is pressed onto a patient's skin, was more heavily contaminated than all parts of the doctor's hand, except the fingertips.
The study, published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings, also found the stethoscope's tube was covered in more bugs than the back of the doctor's hand.
Hard pressed Accident and Emergency departments are paying locum doctors over £1,000 a shift, while consultants are being handed more than £3,000 and nurses as much as £1,600, according the Telegraph.
The newspaper said its investigation found that NHS hospitals are paying doctors as much as £3,000 a shift to fill “endemic” A&E staff shortages
According to official figures, locum doctors were paid over £1,000 to plug holes in A&E department rotas on at least 2,300 occasions last year.
Doctors at emergency departments in England are warning of another crisis in the NHS this winter.
The President of the College of Emergency Medicine told ITV News that fewer doctors and other increased pressures on the service could push the NHS to breaking point.
ITV News Reporter Nick Thatcher reports:
The Royal College for GPs has said that the government's ambition to deliver more care to patients closer to home is not matched by resources allotted to general practice.
- Funding per patient has fallen 7% in England since 2010
- 80% of GPs say they have insufficient resources to provide high-quality care
- 47% say they have already cut back on the range of services provided
- Investment in general practice dropped from £8,865 million in 2009/10 to £8,459 million in 2012/3
Dr Clare Gerada, the chair of the Royal College of GPs, has warned that family doctors routinely see up to 60 patients in a single day due to a "chronic shortfall" of GPs and funding:
The Royal College of GPs (RCGP) is calling for "emergency" measures to close a £400 million financial "black hole" in services.
The family doctors body said funding cuts over the past three years are already having a "disastrous effect on patient care".
They said there has been a seven percent drop in funding per person in England from 2010 to 2013, due to the £400 million fall in investment and population growth.
Dr Clare Gerada, chair of RCGP, said that while more than 90 percent of patient contact within the NHS is with a GP, only nine percent of the entire budget is currently awarded to general practices.
Health minister Dan Poulter said while overseas doctors make a "hugely valuable contribution to the NHS" it is "clear" that "tougher checks" on English language skills are needed. He added:
Niall Dickson, chief executive of the General Medical Council, said:
The move to enpower the General Medical Council's English language testing comes after a series of high-profile cases, including Dr Daniel Ubani, who killed a patient in 2008 after confusing the names of two drugs.
The new powers for the GMC could see inspectors:
- checking for language competency when looking at qualifications
- judging how long doctors have been registered in other countries
- examining the type of experience the doctors possess
- assessing any doctor if language concerns arise during a fitness-to-practise investigation
Red flags may include doctors turning up with interpreters, poor English in interviews or poor written English on application forms. Any worries could then prompt full testing of the doctor's language skills.