Latest News & Views

Posted on 31st March 2017

Tougher tests for foreign doctors could cut mistakes by half

A new study by the University of York looked at the competency and language test results of 27,000 foreign doctors, and found those who took the test multiple times were more likely to face fitness to practice sanctions.

Doctors who qualify outside of the EU must sit an English language and clinical skills test to show they have the right level of skills needed to work in the NHS.

From September 2017, the number of times a doctor can resit the tests will be limited to four times.

Last year the General Medical Council (GMC) made these tests tougher.

The study found that if the doctors who passed first time, sixty per cent of those who take the test, were the only ones allowed to practice, then the number of sanctions they received for malpractice would be in line with British-trained doctors.

However, the study noted that this would leave the UK with a shortage of specialist doctors across the country.

Lead researcher Dr Paul Tiffin said failing the language skills multiple times could highlight that a doctor was not up to a high enough standard to work in the UK.

He continued to say that complaints about doctors who resat the tests several times were often about non-clinical issues. Such as ‘misunderstandings’ or a failure to understand ‘subtle cultural differences’.

Charlie Massey, chief executive of the GMC, said the Univerity of York study was based on the old test and that the new limit of four resits would soon be introduced. 

“We feel this new rule, in conjunction with the test itself being more robust, strikes the right balance between protecting patients and making sure the UK medical workforce continues to receive a steady supply of appropriately-qualified new doctors”, he said. 

“Once in the UK these doctors, like all others, are subject to regular checks to show they remain safe to practise, through annual appraisals with their employers and through revalidation”, he continued.


Previous studies have found doctors from EU countries were twice as likely to be struck off, suspended or given a warning compared to those from the UK, reported The Daily Mail.

The Royal College of Surgeons has previously called for the Government to use Brexit to introduce safety and language checks for doctors, dentists and nurses from the EU.