A lie is a lie in any language

Jon Danzig |

True or false? English language tests for doctors are banned under EU law

Both the Daily Mail and Daily Express stated that EU law has to be changed so that foreign doctors can have their command of English checked.  They claimed such checks are currently “banned” under EU law.  

The Mail reported, “Patients lives are being put at risk by doctors whose English language skills have never been tested because it is banned under EU law.”  The Express echoed, “At present, EU rules prevent the GMC testing doctors for competency in English.”

It simply isn’t true that foreign doctors from other EU countries cannot have their English language skills checked.

EU rules state that if a migrant doesn’t have the necessary language skills to practice his or her profession in the UK, those  skills  have to be acquired. The NHS has a duty to ensure that staff can communicate effectively and safely with patients and other staff, and to check language competency where there is any doubt.

There is a proposal to amend the UK’s Medical Act 1983 to give the General Medical Council extra powers to double-check the language competency of doctors from EU/EEA countries wanting to work in the UK.  However, under current legislation, the NHS is entitled, and has a responsibility, to assess and ensure the language and communication proficiency of their staff.

Michel Barnier, EU Commissioner for the internal market and services, said:

“It is a myth that EU rules require the UK to employ European doctors and nurses without proof that their medical skills and English are up to scratch. This is not the case and never has been.

“Patients are obviously right to insist that those treating them can communicate properly. So the EU rules require health professionals to have the necessary language skills.  Language checks are not explicitly imposed by EU law. But neither are they outlawed. So this is a matter for member states to decide.”

The EU Professional Qualifications Directive (Article 53) clearly states:

“Persons benefiting from the recognition of professional qualifications shall have knowledge of languages necessary for practising the profession in the host Member State.”   

Under current General Medical Council registration requirements, (Section 6.3), doctors from the EU and EEA:

“…need to apply and provide evidence of their nationality and qualifications, and their English language proficiency will be checked on appointment by a prospective employer.”

At best, the claim by some newspapers that English language checks for foreign doctors are banned under EU law is misleading.  Some might go so far as to say it’s a “mentira” (Spanish), a “mensonge” (French), a “bugia” (Italian) a “Flunkerei” (German) – or to put it in plain English, a lie.

What do you think?

Other articles by Jon Danzig: