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12th November 2014

The Blog What I Wrote

people with dialog speech bubblesLanguage, accent and local dialect, can be a challenge even within different areas of the UK. Areas as diverse as Yorkshire, Cornwall and Shetland jokingly publish their own phrase books for tourists. I once had a car accident in a rural part of Scotland, following which the insurers needed information from the local garage. Having got the insurers, in a regional call centre, on the phone I then handed the mobile to the Scottish mechanic. After a few minutes of frustration on both sides I had to take the phone back and then translate for both parties! Funny at the time, but lack of communication can have more serious implications.

It’s nearly five years since the tragic incident in which a patient died after being treated by an out-of-hours doctor newly arrived in the UK. It was Daniel Ubani, a Nigerian-born German citizen’s, first shift of work, when he killed the patient. He injected 100mg of diamorphine, ten times the recommended maximum dose, and language difficulties were highlighted as an aspect of this incident. Even now, poor English skills and difficulty in communication are raised as common issues in complaints about dentists and doctors.

Language tests

Following the Ubani case, there have been moves to test more thoroughly the language skills of non-UK doctors and dentists. At the moment, the GDC can only act if dentists from outside the European Economic Area (EEA), the EU, plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein apply to work in Britain. However, the Government is determined to act across the NHS, amid rising concern about serious risks from the language skills of EU doctors and dentists. Now Dentistry Magazine has revealed that Ministers will change the law, to give the General Dental Council (GDC) the power to impose checks before a licence to practise is issued, where concerns emerge over dentists command of English.

“The department of health (DH) has issued a consultation document announcing plans to amend the 1984 Dentists Act, in order to give the GDC the proper teeth. However – after 12 months pondering the best way to make the switch – DH has run into the problem of EU rules requiring the equal treatment of European and UK applicants. Therefore, all would-be dentists – including those trained in the UK – will now be required to show they ‘have the necessary knowledge of English.”

They believe that the proposed powers will improve quality of care and patient safety and will help prevent patients from being put at risk of harm from nurses, midwives, dentists, dental care professionals, pharmacists and pharmacy technicians who do not have the necessary knowledge of the English language.

New fees!

All this will also empower the GDC to ‘take fitness to practice action’ where there are serious complaints that a registered dentist lacks command of English. It will also allow the regulator to ‘charge a fee in relation to the examination of applications’, on top of existing registration fees.

Dr John Shapter – QCS Expert Dental Contributor


Topics: Dentists

Sarah Riley

Senior Customer Care Executive

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