Foreign doctors will have to prove they can speak English before they can practise in England under specific proposals set out by health secretary Andrew Lansley (pictured).
A consultation propose that senior doctors who evaluate other doctors' fitness to practice will have extra powers to ensure that any doctor working in their organisation can speak English.
The General Medical Council registers thousands of doctors each year from all over the world. Currently doctors from outside the EU have to take rigorous language tests but European laws make it illegal to systematically test EU doctors when they register. Their lack of language skills can sometimes slip through the net and put patient safety at risk.
There are 500 responsible officers in post in organisations around the country, including the NHS. Under the proposals up for consultation, they would work with the General Medical Council to ensure doctors working in their organisation has all the right checks including making sure they understand NHS processes and medicines.
Lansley said: "Sadly, we are all too familiar with what can happen when qualified doctors don't have a good command of English. This puts patients at risk and I am determined to stop this.
"That is why I have launched this consultation today, to find the best possible solution to the problem.
"By giving new powers to Responsible Officers we can make sure that doctors not only speak English before they treat patients in this country but are also competent to work within the NHS, making sure that they understand NHS processes and medicines which is as important as language to the quality of care patients receive. I hope everyone gets involved and has their say."
Niall Dickson, chief executive of the General Medical Council, added: "This is a vital issue for patients- they must be able to have confidence that the doctor who treats them has the communication skills needed for the job.
"We warmly welcome the measures the Secretary of State has unveiled today, which we have worked together on for many months. These changes would significantly strengthen the employer checks inEngland, with Responsible Officers having a legal duty to work closely with the GMC. These proposals, along with the Secretary of States commitment to changing the Medical Act to strengthen our powers, will mean that patients across all parts of the UK receive the assurances they need about the doctors who treat them."
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