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Minister says 'tougher' language checks are needed

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:

We have already strengthened the way doctors' language skills are checked at a local level. These new powers are an important step in making the system even stronger by allowing the GMC to carry out checks on a national level before they start work in the UK and prevent doctors who do not have the necessary knowledge of English from treating patients.

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the General Medical Council, said:

This is an important move that will help protect patients and will be welcomed across the country.

New GMC powers aim to bolster national level checks

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.

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GMC to test English skills of doctors from Europe

Research suggests there were 66 cases in 2011 where senior doctors dealt with linguistic concerns about a doctor locally. Credit: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

The General Medical Council (GMC) will be able to test the English language skills of doctors arriving from Europe under new powers proposed by the Government.

Although language checks can currently be made on medics arriving in the UK from outside of Europe, EU rules prevent the GMC testing any doctors coming from the continent for competency in English.

But the proposed change in law would allow the GMC to act on any worries raised when medics try to register for work in the UK.

A 12-week consultation on the Government's plans will run until December 2, with the new changes expected to come into force next year.

GMC chief: 'We need to learn' from complaints rise

General Medical Council Chief Executive Niall Dickson told ITV News:

Today there will be something like a million interactions between general practice and patients - so you are talking about a very small number relative to the huge number of interactions that there are every day.

It doesn't mean that we should ignore this number of complaints.

We need to learn from it and learn, for example, what areas or what stages of a doctor's career they may be more vulnerable to complaints and where additional support can be given in order for doctors to provide better care.

– General Medical Council CEO NIALL DICKSON

NHS Confederation calls for 'careful eye' on complaints

We must keep a careful eye on these complaints. A rise may partly be a result of patients rightly being more assertive in voicing dissatisfaction about their care, or it may be something more substantial.

Employers and individual doctors need to analyse this data and look carefully at the cases where doctors have not met the standards patients expect, and what action they need to take when they fall short.

Every patient should be given the necessary time to discuss healthcare concerns which can often be complex and upsetting.

Worryingly, these figures suggest that this is not always the case."

– NHS Confederation CEO Mike Farrar

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Labour spokesman: NHS 'heading in wrong direction'

Labour's Shadow Health Minister has claimed patients are being hit by the Government's "mismanagement of the NHS" after a General Medical Council report concluded complaints against doctors rose 23 percent in the last year.

The Government cannot brush this aside - patients are clearly being hit by their mismanagement of the NHS.

Ministers lost a grip on NHS finances and we are seeing increasingly crude cost cutting measures.

GPs are now being offered financial incentives to cut the number of referrals and patients face a growing list of banned or rationed treatments.

It's no surprise that people are angry.

Yesterday's British Social Attitudes survey reported a nosedive in public satisfaction with the NHS - falling for the first time in a decade.

Today's figures will only add to concerns about a health service heading in the wrong direction under this out of touch Government.

– Shadow Health Minister Jamie Reed

Department of Health 'working towards a safer system'

We agree that patients should be able to access expert services seven days a week and they have a right to expect the same level of care on a Saturday or Sunday as they do on a Wednesday.

Not only would this mean better, safer and more consistent care and treatment, it will also mean better support for junior doctors.

We are taking action and working with professional associations to drive this forward across the NHS.

Patients need to know that doctors have the right language skills and we are already working with the GMC to develop a stronger, safer system.

The European Commission is also reviewing the laws affecting this and looking at how regulators like the GMC can play a stronger role.

– Department of Health spokesperson

Health Minister: 'Medical standards remain high'

The Government is committed to giving patients a stronger voice in the NHS, so that people have a greater say in where and by whom they are treated and importantly to ensure the NHS learns and improves from mistakes when things have gone wrong.

The GMC is rightly taking steps to better understand and deal with an increase in complaints, but it is important to reassure people that this does not mean that medical standards are falling and complaints to the GMC are not always directly related quality of front line patient care.

– Health Minister Dr Dan Poulter
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