EU doctors to sit English exam if they want to work
DOCTORS from other EU countries who want to practise in Ireland are expected to face a compulsory English language test within two years.
The plan is to reduce the chances of doctors with poor English slipping through the net and putting patient safety at risk.
The test currently cannot be imposed by regulatory bodies such as the Irish Medical Council before registration because of freedom-of-movement legislation for workers within the EU.
Hospitals have the power to ask the doctor to take the test after they are registered, but it is not always carried out.
But an EU directive, allowing the Irish Medical Council and its European counterparts to impose the test, is expected to be passed later this year, paving the way for the Government to bring it into domestic law.
The proposal is expected to be agreed, with particular pressure having come from Ireland and the UK.
In 2011, the Medical Council received 33 complaints about doctors failing to communicate, as well as some being rude.
One of the most high-profile cases involved Romanian-trained medic Asia Ndaga (31), who was a senior house officer at Letterkenny Hospital in Donegal.
It emerged she was unable to take a pulse and had difficulty communicating because of her poor English.
The text of the amended directive will come before the European Parliament in mid-October and, once formally adopted, will be introduced in all member states within two years.
The Department for Health has confirmed that the directive is being amended with "broad political agreement" between EU member states – it was agreed during the Irish presidency earlier this year.
There are around 1,800 doctors who qualified within the EU (including 700 British nationals) registered to practise in Ireland.
The Irish Medical Council has regularly called for the option to carry out language tests and is hopeful the newly amended directive will be implemented as soon as possible.
A spokeswoman for the council said: "For many years now the Medical Council has highlighted its concern at its inability to assess the English language competence of doctors coming to work in Ireland from within the EU.
"In the interests of patient safety, doctors must be able to communicate in the language of the country in which they are seeking registration."
The British government intends the extend the powers of the General Medical Council so that, as well as testing new applicants, it can also test the doctors who have worked in Britain for some time but whose language shortcomings have only later arisen during fitness-to-practise investigations.
A government-commissioned survey in the UK indicated that there were 66 cases in 2011 in England where senior NHS doctors dealt with linguistic concerns about a doctor locally.