Health warning about foreign doctors’ standards

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A major study has found that 50% of foreign doctors in Britain do not have sufficient skills to work in the country, but are able to do so because of the level of the competency examination.

The study has indicated that most of the 88,000 foreign doctors would fail the exam if it was on the same level as those British doctors have to undertake.

This new disclosure will add to the already existing concerns about the reliance of the NHS on foreign doctors. Many of these doctors have had questions raised about their language ability. However, the results of the study have revealed more shortcomings. The General Medical Council (GMC) issues licenses to about 1,300 foreign doctors on an annual basis, after they have passed an exam involving assessment of their language and clinical skills.

The study which was done by the University College London and commissioned by the GMC, discovered that half of the foreign doctors would not be able to reach the same standards expected of British doctors. This has resulted in a call for the competency exam’s pass rate to be increased from 63% to 76% in an attempt to ensure patient safety.

Professor of Psychology and Medical Education at UCL, Chris McManus, has stated that they have no proper method in place to check that foreign doctors have received training at the same level as British doctors. He stated that the purpose of the study was to discover the level foreign doctor’s would have to reach to be as competent as their British counterparts.

He further stated that the extent of the problem is indicated by the over-representation of foreign doctors at GMC hearings.

In excess of 88000 foreign doctors have registered to work in the UK. This figure includes 22758 doctors from Europe. The foreign doctors make up around one third of all the NHS doctors, but they account for about two-thirds of the ones struck off on an annual basis. The exam they need to pass from the Professional and Linguistics Assessments Board, has been designed to make sure that they hold a similar skill level to a British graduate a year after the completion of medical school.

UCL could not find a formal mechanism which ensures that the exam was at the same level as the assessments British doctors have to take. On comparison, it was found that foreign doctors were under-performing consistently.

Professor McManus stated that there are cases where overseas doctors have received poor training, but when they enter Britain they get up to standard quickly and thrive because of the environment. However, some of them may be overwhelmed completely, particularly as they may be faced with new technology they have no knowledge about. He said this was the main concern.

Of the number of doctors suspended or removed from the medical register, India is at the top of the list, with Nigeria and Egypt following.

The findings of the study have been made public early as it was used as a defence against an allegation that the GMC was racist. Professor McManus has stated that they have gone through the figures with a fine-toothed comb and there is no evidence that the examiners were acting in a racist fashion.

The Chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, Dr Maureen Baker, has said that in the interests of patient safety, it is a matter of urgency that the current standard setting process of the Professional and Linguistic Assessment be reviewed.

Image credit: Army Medicine

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