Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

How should overseas doctors' language problems be overcome?

Daily Telegraph - 30th August 2000

Sir

As a former NHS consultant who employed many junior foreign doctors as trainees, I fully support Dr Fox's proposals. It is true that non-EU doctors are largely screened by the PLAB tests.

Nevertheless, from time to time I have come across doctors being sponsored for training by the Royal Colleges exempted from the PLAB requirements, who were not up to the expected standards. In such cases there has been little one could do to protect patients' interests other than refuse to provide a reference.

EU doctors, under European provisions pertaining to the freedom of movement and establishment and mutual recognition of professional diplomas, are automatically fully registered in the United Kingdom. I came across a number of juniors in my speciality (psychiatry), particularly from southern European countries, whose general medical skills and language aptitude was clearly inadequate.

Sometimes when interviewing such doctors we would suggest they went away and did some locums to improve their English before applying for substantive trainee posts, effectively displacing the problem elsewhere, but once employed there was little that could be done. Since the General Medical Council is precluded from testing EU doctors I think the proposal that the NHS as an employer should introduce formal language testing is wholly reasonable.

It is also a matter of concern that there are proposals to admit EU specialists who come to the United Kingdom to practise to the prestigious membership of the Royal Colleges under special bylaws, without their having to sit the rigorous exams that British graduates must, ostensibly so that they can participate in the training supervision programmes open to British consultants.

As a result, a patient will no longer be able to distinguish between a specialist trained in this country and one trained abroad.

Dr. Charles Tannock MEP (Con)
Brussels