The General Medical Council (GMC) has tightened English language requirements for EU consultants coming to work in the UK. What will this mean for the future of our healthcare?

All practicing Clinicians in the UK must have the necessary knowledge of English to communicate effectively – this makes sense as it is of course necessary not to put the lives of patients at risk due to any miscommunication, but the GMC’ recent tightening of regulations regarding the level of English language that EU consultants must possess to come to the UK and work for the NHS is arguably aiding in the lack of skilled Clinicians available to fill highly-specialised roles.

The new IELTS English language test is split into four sections – reading, writing, speaking and listening. A firm pass must be achieved in all sections in order to be granted the right to work in the UK. The problem with this is that a clinician can have an excellent performance in three of these areas, but a below-pass level score in the fourth would leave them ineligible to work here.

Overcoming the barrier

There is a ‘loophole’ to this however, by way of a certificate being given from the employing Trust taking full responsibility for the consultant and vouching for their language ability. This in itself is somewhat tricky though. In all likelihood, the employing Trust has only met the applicant a few times during the interview procedure, but they must be confident in declaring that their language abilities are at a pass level. Furthermore, this ‘sponsorship’ route is not available to any applicant that has already failed their previous English language test. As with many official procedures though, there are further loopholes and grey areas here too. Quite simply, an employing Trust is not going to know that an English language test has previously been failed unless the applicant chooses to disclose it.

The impact on specialist roles

Tightened guidelines are all well and good on paper, but the reality is that the NHS could be cutting off its nose to spite its face. There is a severe shortage of highly sought Clinical Consultants for specialist positions in the UK, and making the process for qualified professionals from outside of the UK to fill these gaps more complicated is not going to help solve the problem. With so few trainees coming out, or putting themselves forward to positions that have such a large amount of red tape and lengthy application procedures around them, we are likely to see an even greater decline in the number of consultants for key positions across the UK.