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European dentists to face language tests

European dentists will face English language tests before they can treat patients in Britain, under tough government plans

Ministers have vowed to change the law to give the General Dental Council (GDC) the power to impose checks where concerns emerge.

A Department of Health (DH) announcement, at the start of September, set out plans to introduce language checks for doctors. This came following a four-year battle.

But dentistry has been told the DH is also ‘committed’ to similar tests for other medical professionals, including dentists.

A spokeswoman said it was expected to take a little longer to clarify European laws on freedom of movement in relation to nurses, midwifes, dentists and other health workers.

But she said: ‘We have focused, at this stage, on arrangements for doctors because this is where we believe risks are the most acute.

‘However, we are committed to ensuring all healthcare professionals coming to work in the UK can speak English well enough to communicate with patients effectively.

‘We are working hard to clarify the law at EU level, so that other healthcare regulators can apply language checks to all healthcare professionals who wish to work in the UK.

‘We are committed to doing this and we hope to have final agreement on the revised EU directive by the autumn.’

The move follows the 2008 death of Cambridgeshire patient David Gray, who was given a 10-fold overdose of a painkiller by German locum GP Daniel Ubani on his first UK shift.

Investigations revealed serious failures in NHS checks on the language skills of doctors coming to the UK from within the EU and the rest of Europe.

In stark contrast, non-European doctors undergo an English test and face a written exam and other assessments by the General Medical Council (GMC).

Under these new rules – likely to be replicated for dentists – European doctors will still join the UK professional register automatically.

However, the regulator will then have the power to impose language tests and check the English of all doctors already working in Britain, whose language shortcomings have since emerged.

A formal DH consultation was launched on 7 September, with the changes expected to take effect next year.

Currently, the vast majority of dentists need a performer number to practise in primary care – and a certain level of language competence is part of that.

By parliamentary correspondent Rob Merrick

 

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