Recommendation 172

Medical practitioners proficiency in the English language

The Government should consider urgently the introduction of a common requirement of proficiency in communication in the English language with patients and other persons providing healthcare to the standard required for a registered medical practitioner to assume professional responsibility for medical treatment of an English-speaking patient.

The Department of Health has been working with the General Medical Council to ensure that all doctors working in the UK have the necessary knowledge of English to treat patients safely.

Overseas doctors (non-EU) are currently required to demonstrate that they have the necessary language skills before they are registered with the General Medical Council. The Government wishes to ensure that all doctors (including EU nationals) working in the UK has the necessary knowledge of English to treat patients in a safe and competent manner and the Department of Health has been working with the General Medical Council to achieve this policy.

The Department of Health launched its consultation paper Language Controls for Doctors: Proposed Changes to the Medical Act 1983 on 7th September 2013, seeking amendments to the Medical Act 1983.  The proposals will give the General Medical Council the power to require evidence of English language capability as part of the licensing process where concerns about language have been identified during the registration process; and create a new category of impairment relating to the necessary knowledge of English, strengthening the General Medical Council’s ability to take fitness to practise action where concerns about language competence are identified.

Also, the new National Health Service (Performers List)(England) Regulations have been streamlined and will allow NHS England to nationally refuse to include a GP on its list where it is not satisfied that they have sufficient knowledge of the English language necessary to perform their work.

The initial focus has been on arrangements for doctors however, we are committed to ensuring all healthcare professionals coming to work in the UK can speak English well enough to communicate with patients.  The revision of the Mutual Recognition of Professional Qualifications (MRPQ) Directive, which impacts on registrations from within the European Economic Area, clarifies that healthcare regulators, can undertake proportionate language controls on professionals following registration.


In 2013 the General Medical Council consulted on the principle of ensuring that all licensed doctors have the necessary knowledge of English to practise safely in the UK. Following the consultation, which received strong support, new checks came into force on 25 June 2014. The changes will require doctors from other European countries to provide evidence of their English skills or undergo a language assessment, if the General Medical Council has concerns about his or her ability to communicate effectively with their patients.

The General Medical Council also announced in February 2014 that they are raising the scores for overseas doctors who take the International English Language Testing System test to demonstrate their English language skills, in light of the results of some research they commissioned. From June 2014, doctors will need to achieve an overall score of 7.5 out of 9 rather than the current score of 7. This change will help to ensure that patients are treated by doctors who can speak and communicate in English to a sufficiently high standard. They will continue to keep the score they require under review.