Mr Lansley told the Conservative Party conference that GPs would be vetted to ensure they had adequate language skills and could communicate properly, a move to evidence “absolute commitment” to guarantee patient safety. Further pledges include a reduction in bureaucracy and spending on management consultants.
The pledge on language skills, which applies to the NHS in England, comes after the case of Daniel Ubani, a German locum doctor who gave 70-year-old David Gray a fatal painkiller overdose on his first and only shift in Britain in February 2008. Investigations found Dr Ubani had been rejected for work in Leeds because of his poor English skills. A UK coroner recorded a verdict of unlawful killing and accused Dr Ubani of gross negligence.
In his speech, Mr Lansley said proficient language skills were equally as important as proper medical qualifications when it came to doctors being able to practise in England. The rules will be changed to ensure that NHS officials have a duty to check the English language skills of all new foreign doctors before they can be employed, and the General Medical Council will be empowered to take action against doctors when there are concerns about their ability to speak English.
Mr Lansley said, “This is not about discriminating, we have always appreciated how much overseas doctors and nurses give to our NHS. It is simply about our absolute commitment to put patient safety first. We will change the law to ensure that any doctor from overseas who does not have a proper level of English will not be able to treat patients in our NHS.”
Doctors who want to work in the UK have to be registered with the GMC. Currently, only those from outside the European Economic Area are routinely checked for language skills.
Niall Dickenson, GMC Chief Executive, commenting on Mr Lansley’s announcement said it was “good news for patients, until today we had a glaring hole in our regulatory defences. The government has now signalled this will be closed so that doctors coming from the European Union can communicate to the standard required of all other doctors on our register.”
However, Labour Shadow Health Secretary, John Healey, cited an open letter signed by more than 400 doctors and health specialists to the House of Lords urging peers to reject the controversial Health and Social Care Bill in a vote later this month.
John Healey said, “Patients and NHS staff can already see long waits returning and their services being cut back, as £2bn gets blown on an upheaval that no one wants and no one voted for”. Andrew Lansley and David Cameron are both in denial about the scale of opposition to the plans, and together they have failed to show that they are listening to the ever expanding chorus of concern about the Tories’ wasteful reorganisation of the NHS.”
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