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16th September 2013

Pardon Me

Changes proposed by the Department of Health would allow the GMC to test the language skills of EU doctors on its register before issuing them with a licence to practise.   A consultation on the plans opened on 7 September and closes on 2 December. There has been pressure for tougher GMC language checks since the case of German locum Daniel Ubani who accidentally killed a patient on his first UK shift in 2008.  Language was considered to be an element of the terrible incident because the coroner said “the government must issue guidance to all NHS trusts over checking doctors' English.”

According to BBC news, the BMA said it is right to ‘consider enhancing the GMC’s powers to ensure doctors working in the UK can speak English well enough before they treat patients’.

The government said that there are around 7,000 applications each year from European doctors to register with the GMC.   However, even now, doctors unable to prove their fluency in English are barred from joining a single national performers list.

This is not just an exercise in Risk Management.  Use of language plays an important part in CQC compliance.  Effective communication is a tool required to meet some of the most basic Standards in Quality.

For instance, Outcome 1 –

1A People who use services are involved in and receive care, treatment and support that respects their right to make or influence decisions because the service:

●● Explains and discusses their care, treatment and support options with them.

●● Provides information to help people who use services, or others acting on their behalf, to understand their care, treatment and support, including the risks and benefits, and their rights to make decisions. because they are:

●● Given the information they need to make choices.

●● Are able to discuss the options available to them.

Most importantly -

1G People who use services receive care, treatment and support that is

provided in a way that ensures their human rights and diversity are

respected by:

●● Discussing information about choices in a way they can understand.

There are big issues of consent, where there are difficulties in communicating.  Subtleties of language can make a big difference to a patient`s ability to understand and make choices.  It is difficult enough when there are regional differences in dialect.  Where there are national differences in vocabularies and stresses on words, the gaps can be dangerous.

Dr John Shapter


Topics: GPs

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