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Calls to test language skills of all non-UK health staff


Patients face “unacceptable risks” to their safety as a result of laws that allow medics to practise anywhere across the EU, peers have claimed.

In a recent report they claim the wrong balance is being struck between allowing healthcare professionals to operate freely with the Union’s borders and protecting the safety of patients.

They call for organisations like the Nursing and Midwifery Council and the General Medical Council to be allowed to test the language skills of all non-UK applicants and for warnings about disgraced practitioners to be shared across EU states.

Baroness Young of Hornsey, who chairs the House of Lords Social Policies and Consumer Protection EU Sub-Committee, said: “It is absolutely unacceptable that current EU rules put patients in the UK and elsewhere at risk.

“From regulating bodies being forced to accredit candidates who may not meet UK standards to the fact that there is no way for prospective employers to check an applicant’s disciplinary history thoroughly, the EU is failing our patients.

“We recognise that mobility within the EU can bring significant benefits, but we have to make sure that this is not at the expense of patients’ health, care and confidence.

“Employing doctors, nurses, midwives, pharmacists and dentists from outside the UK can help to provide patients with the best possible treatment but may also expose them to unacceptable risks.”

Health secretary Andrew Lansley insisted the government was taking action to toughen up the rules.


Readers' comments (8)

  • About bloody time too!

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  • To be perfectly honest, even though I have the right to work in any EU country I would not invoke that right unless I had sufficient fluency in the local language.

    With rights come responsibilty, and in this case the responsibility is to ensure that language skills as well as clinical skills are sufficient to safely and competently do the job.

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  • Exactly John, it's basic common sense isn't it? How can you Nurse effectively if you can't communicate with your patients? I would love to work in a variety of countries, but I am not fluent in the language, so I don't!

    You are exactly right about the responsibility issue too John, but I think that responsibility works both ways. There is an issue here of the idiots in charge taking so damn long to get a grip on this issue, but there is also an issue of the individuals involved, there has to be a question of their professionalism?

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  • Makes perfect sense to test basic language skills and should be introduced as quickly as possible.

    Must apply to ALL nhs employees including medics.

    However, will probably never come to fruition as the PC brigade will claim it infringes somebody or others human rights.

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  • michael stone

    That piece only states the blindingly obvious - it doesn't say how the problem will be sorted !

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    Would nursing staff care to comment on this ? Should good communication skills with deaf patients be part of training ? We feel at risk every time we attend an hospital, and many deaf simply put off going.

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  • Hi, interestingly all levels of nurses seem to get through the language issue which is very worrying. I am at present 'training' a colleague who seems to have lacked the insight into their linguistic skills AND experience to be a CNS. The person is unable to follow clinical interviews in out patients, meetings or ward rounds because people talk at a normal English speed and they can't follow it fast enough. Even one to one with patients, it has been witnessed that the patients lose concentration and lack confidence in the person. It is a peer post so I was not involved in interviewing and in fact the person did not come to look round the unit or meet with any of the staff before the interview. This is a fully functioning MDT and the post is band 7. Not only that but the person has a Masters degree - fine - they are intelligent and a good practical nurse but done in their own language and in a subject that relates in no way to the speciality we are working in.. hey ho! Sorry to winge but ...

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  • I recently had to work a night shift, the only other qualified member of the team was a male agency nurse ( this was a female ward), who could not speak or understand English. I felt the ward and patients were compromised and I had to handover all the patients as he was unable to communicate....well..anything really...
    This puts patients, the hospital and me as a practitioner at risk.

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