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New English Language Tests for Doctors

Responding to the publication of the General Medical Council’s consultation on introducing English language tests for doctors working in the UK from the European Economic Area, Dr Vivienne Nathanson, BMA Director of Professional Activities, has said:

"The BMA supports the introduction of English language checks for European doctors and new plans from the General Medical Council to set the bar higher for all overseas doctors having to take the tests.

"It is vital for patient safety that all doctors, whether from the European Economic Area or otherwise, have an acceptable command of English to communicate effectively to ensure the safety of their patients.

"Since 2002 the BMA has called for language skills to be made a pre-requisite for any doctors wanting to practice in another EU member state, and while we support freedom of movement it is important that patient safety is paramount at all times."

We all expect our GPs to have good enough English to communicate and understand what we say. A crucial part of a consultation is taking a history, but a history isn't simply a list of symptoms or episodes in a life. It is understanding the patient's narrative. The way people express their emotions or feelings will often be couched in nuances and cliché. Understanding is more than language.

Of course another way of saying this is that language is more than simply words. It is cultural.

Under current legislation, the GMC can assess overseas doctors applying to work in the UK, but not those from other countries within the European Union.

The changes will require doctors from other European countries to provide evidence of their English skills or undergo a language assessment, if the GMC has concerns about his or her ability to communicate effectively with their patients.

This has to be a good move. As Niall Dickson, GMC chief executive says 'these new measures to ensure doctors from other European countries can communicate in English, combined with the higher test score requirements, will help us strengthen protection for patients."






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