Crackdown over foreign doctors' limited English
Published 23/10/2016 | 02:30
A loophole that allows foreign doctors with just pidgin English to work in Irish hospitals is to be closed.
The law currently allows medics with limited English to practise because authorities are powerless to test their language skills due to strict EU regulations.
Guidelines under the Recognition of Professional Qualifications Directive rule that doctors from the European Economic Area cannot be subject to any burden - such as a rigorous English language test - that is not placed on Irish workers.
The directive allows free movement within the EU of professionals such as general practitioners and specialists, nurses, midwives, dental practitioners, pharmacists, architects and veterinary surgeons.
This means medics whose competency in the language has not been professionally assessed have been working on the front line in Ireland.
The Medical Council has admitted equality rules prevent it from directly examining doctors' competency in the use of medical terms - or a medic's ability to clearly communicate with English-speaking patients.
In a statement, it said it has long been an "active advocate" for legislative change in this area.
However, the Sunday Independent has learned tough laws will be introduced before the end of this year to close the loophole.
The Department of Health confirmed the directive has been modernised and new legislation is being finalised.
This will require foreign medical professionals to prove they are competent in English before they are allowed to register with the Medical Council and practise in this country.
According to the latest annual report from the Medical Council, the number of complaints against doctors increased by 19pc last year.
Five doctors were struck off the register last year - compared with one in 2014.
In 2015, the council received 369 complaints about doctors.
Some of the allegations related to misdiagnosis, clinical investigations and examinations, professional skills, and lack of dignity when treating patients. Most complaints were made by members of the public, 25 were made by healthcare professionals, and two were made by the HSE.
There were 35 fitness-to-practise inquiries into serious allegations against doctors during the year. Complaints about poor communication were up by 40pc.
Meanwhile, figures showed Ireland's health system relies on a higher percentage of foreign-trained doctors than most other developed countries. There were 20,473 doctors registered in Ireland last year - the highest number on record.
Of those, 38pc - or 7,780 - were trained abroad, which was an increase of almost 1,000 on 2014.
The trend was even more apparent when compared with 16 years ago, when there were only 1,359 foreign-trained doctors working here, accounting for 11pc of the total.
Overseas recruits account for fewer than 3pc of doctors in Turkey, Poland, the Netherlands, Estonia and the Czech Republic, and under 10pc in France, Germany and Spain.
In the UK, 28pc of its 172,561 doctors are foreign.