Hundreds of foreign doctors not checked for competency
Hundreds of foreign doctors working in Britain have not been checked for language skills or competency, according to figures out today.
Despite widespread outrage over the case of a German doctor with poor English whose mistake led to the death of a pensioner, less than one in four foreign doctors is currently being properly verified, according to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request.
The investigation by Pulse, a newspaper for GPs, also found many NHS trusts in England have no accurate record of whether or not a doctor has been checked.
Dr Daniel Ubani killed David Gray, 70, by giving him 10 times the normal dose of diamorphine on his first-out-of-hours shift in Britain in 2008. He later admitted never having heard of the drug.
In February a coroner found that Dr Ubani was “incompetent” and ruled that Mr Gray had been killed unlawfully.
Dr Ubani was struck off by the General Medical Council in June but he still practises in Germany.
His poor English meant he was refused work by the NHS in West Yorkshire but was later accepted in Cornwall and then Cambridgeshire, where Mr Gray lived.
Today’s survey of more than 100 primary care trusts (PCTs) shows hundreds of foreign doctors are included on “performers’ lists” without having been fully checked.
Out of 152 PCTs in England, 108 responded to questions following an FOI request.
Of 35 that gave information about language checks, only 23 per cent of non-UK EU doctors on their performers’ lists had undergone such tests. More than 300 had not.
And of 20 PCTs able to provide details about tests on clinical competence, just 17 per cent of doctors trained on the continent had undergone such assessments.
More than two thirds of trusts that responded (74 of 108) admitted they did not collect data on whether doctors had been checked, including NHS Cambridgeshire.
Mr Gray’s son Dr Stuart Gray, himself a GP, said he was “horrified” by the results of the survey.
“To be honest I don’t know what more it takes to get changes made,” he lamented. “It’s only a matter of time before there’s another death.”
He believed compliance with such checks would have stopped Dr Ubani practising in Britain and hence saved his father’s life.
Niall Dickson, chief executive of the General Medical Council, said: “The Pulse survey appears to show worrying failings in the system of employer checks, which could put patients at risk.
“Both the Government and the GMC have reminded PCTs of their responsibility to ensure the doctors they employ, or contract with, are fit for purpose; this includes making sure they can communicate effectively.”
However, the GMC believes its hands are tied by European rules which prevent it from directly checking the language skills and clinical competence of foreign trained doctors.
Professor Steve Field, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, who co-wrote a recent Government-commissioned report that was highly critical of out-of-hours care, said: “We’ve given PCTs a wake-up call and it’s disgraceful they still aren’t taking the issue seriously.
“The performers’ list simply hasn’t worked in providing safety for patients.”
Richard Hoey, editor of Pulse, said: “PCTs work in a difficult financial environment, and some of the criticism they get is unfair.
“But in this case they are shirking on the cost of testing an average of just 10 doctors each, and risking a far greater cost in human life.”
A spokesman for the Department of Health said: “Under European law healthcare regulators such as the General Medical Council cannot systematically test the language knowledge of European Economic Area migrants at the point of registration.
“United Kingdom domestic law supports the EU directive on mutual recognition of proof of qualifications in this respect.
“However, employers and those contracting with healthcare workers can, and indeed should, verify the language knowledge of any person they appoint to ensure that they can undertake the duties being asked of them.”
She added that PCTs had “a legal duty” to ensure that doctors were fit to provide services, and that Europe-trained doctors could be subjected to language tests. However, she said there was no requirement stipulating such a test.
Tags: Doctors, DoH, GMC, GPs, Health Professionals, NHS Deaths, preventable crisis, red tape