The Department of Health is consulting on proposals to give the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), the General Dental Council (GDC), the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) and the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland (PSNI) powers to apply language controls to ensure that the healthcare professionals on their registers have sufficient knowledge of English to enable them to practise safely in the UK. These powers would apply to those wishing to register from countries within the European Economic Area (EEA).
The General Medical Council already has this power following a consultation which took place during 2013.
The Department of Health also proposes to create a new category of impairment to ensure that the regulators have the powers to take fitness to practise action where they identify concerns about the ability of the healthcare professional to practise in English.
The consultation document sets out the intention of the Department of Health to consult during 2015 on proposals to give similar powers to the other healthcare regulators (the Health and Care Professions Council, the General Optical Council, the General Osteopathic Council and the General Chiropractic Council).
The proposal is to amend the relevant legislation to enable the NMC, GDC, GPhC and the PSNI to introduce language controls. Once the legislation has been amended, each regulator will go out to consultation on how they intend to implement the new powers to be given to them.
The regulators in question already have the power to carry out language controls on non-EEA nationals. However, in relation to EEA nationals and even where regulators have concerns about an applicant’s English language ability, they are not allowed to refuse registration on the basis of such concerns.
A significant factor in formulating the proposals now being consulted on is the need to ensure that any controls introduced do not conflict with European law, particularly the mutual recognition of professional qualifications (MRPQ directive 2005/36/EC).
The new proposed process for registration
The current process for EEA nationals, whereby certain qualifications entitle the holder to automatic registration, will be split in two. There will be the recognition of qualifications as a first step and admission on to the register as a second distinct step.
At the time of applying to go on the register, applicants would be able to (but would not have to) provide evidence of their competence in the English language. In the absence of any concerns by the relevant regulator, the application for registration would proceed as currently.
Where the regulator has concerns about the applicant's knowledge of English, it will be able to inform the applicant that, while their qualifications entitle them to registration subject to meeting the other registration requirements, they may be requested to supply evidence (or further evidence) of their competence in the English language.
The regulator would also have the power, in the absence of appropriate evidence being supplied, to require the applicant to sit an English language test.
If this language competence stage is satisfied, the regulator will go on to apply its other criteria for registration such as character, health and so on.
The consultation document includes a flow chart of how the process might look and the content of the draft order. The document is available from the Department of Health website at www.gov.uk/government/consultations/language-controls-for-healthcare-and-associated-professions and the consultation is open until 15 December 2014.