The GMC has announced that responsible officers – senior doctors in NHS organisations who are required to ensure that other doctors are appraised annually and that any concerns about their fitness to practise are investigated – will be required to vouch for the competence of their European colleagues.

Whereas non-EU qualified doctors have to undergo a written clinical examination and a practical examination in order to get onto the GMC Register, European law prohibits the testing of the competence of doctors registered elsewhere in the European Union as a precondition of inclusion in the Register. Language tests cannot be “routinely” required of such doctors either.  

The announcement, from the GMC’s Chief Executive, Niall Dickson, was a response to calls for measures to be implemented to avoid a recurrence of the Daniel Ubani case, where a doctor’s prescribing error, made on his first shift after flying in from Germany, resulted in the death of 70 year old David Gray from diamorphine overdose.

Giving evidence before the Health Select Committee earlier this year, Mr Dickson had explained that the GMC was finalising a scheme which would provide better safeguards in terms of language and competence than the current arrangements. Although relatively few details have emerged thus far, it appears that pre-existing doubts arising over language competency, when a doctor first applies to come to the UK, could be resolved by testing and then, once a doctor were admitted to the Register, Responsible Officers would have to certify that those doctors are competent.

Niall Dickson has announced that the DH is keen to see legislation brought in to amend the Medical Act 1983, in order to extend the powers of the GMC, so that the new provisions can be put in place. Although the British Medical Association voiced support for the moves, some members of the General Practitioners Committee have raised doubts, asking whether it is practical for a responsible officer to be able to challenge a registration granting authority elsewhere in Europe.