08 Apr 2014

Medics with Poor English Language Skills ‘Face Axe’

Doctors and nurses in the UK who cannot communicate clearly in English face being struck off under new regulations.

Other health workers could also be given the boot if their language skills aren’t deemed to be up to scratch.

It is part of a new draft Bill published by the country’s Law Commission that will unite the nine bodies currently covering healthcare nationwide, allowing them to work from a single legislative framework.

Organisations including the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) and the General Medical Council (GMC) are bound by different rules on what they can do.

New powers, however, would allow regulators to proactively investigate instances of suspected poor conduct and practice whenever they come to their attention. At present, some can only investigate once they have received a formal complaint.

Patient protection

For the very first time, regulators will be able to discipline or strike off professionals who are not able to communicate clearly in English to patients.

They will also be able to reconsider cases that have been closed in the past following a mistake or error.

A process of revalidation – where professionals undergo “MOTs” to ensure they are still fit to practice – will be extended from doctors to all health and social care professionals, while schemes could be introduced to ban unregulated workers from providing services.

Nicholas Paines QC, the commissioner leading the project for England and Wales, claims the regulations are in the best interests of patients.

“Our recommended reforms place patient protection firmly at the heart of a new legal framework,” he said.

“If implemented, they will enhance the autonomy of the regulators, empower them to respond more quickly and effectively to emerging public health concerns and enable them to meet the demands of a modern, devolved health and social care sector.”

Language tests

The nine regulators are responsible for around 1.4 million workers across 32 health and social care roles, although they have limited powers to remove workers with poor communication skills once they are registered.

But the Bill will put all of them on the same footing when it comes to being able to test the language competency of health workers.

It will grant the power to test the language skills of any person applying to be on the register if specific issues are raised about their lack of proficiency.


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