Foreign medics face harder exams to practise in UK

More foreign doctors were referred to the GMC. Picture: PA
More foreign doctors were referred to the GMC. Picture: PA
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FOREIGN doctors who want to work for the NHS should face tougher tests to bring them in line with the standards expected of UK-trained doctors, a study says.

University College London found a “performance gap” between international medical graduates and UK graduates.

It urged the General Medical Council (GMC), which commissioned the study, to set pass marks “considerably higher” for entry exams taken by international doctors. In Scotland, there were calls to make sure standards were appropriate for all doctors, while recognising the contribution made by overseas medics.

The latest study, published in the British Medical Journal, warned that “very few” current foreign candidates would have qualified to work in the UK if grades were raised in line with the standard of UK graduates.

Around 1,300 foreign physicians are licensed each year by the GMC after passing an exam which assesses clinical and language skills.

Chris McManus, professor of psychology and medical education at UCL, said the performance gap was highlighted by the number of foreign doctors being refereed to the GMC.

“There is no real mechanism for checking that doctors coming from outside Britain have been trained to the same level as British doctors,” he said.

“We wanted to find out what level overseas doctors would have to reach if they were to be as competent as British graduates. I think it’s inevitable the bar will need to be set higher.

“The fact that you already have overseas doctors being over-represented at GMC hearings is indicative of the problem. Many are simply not trained to the same standards.

“It may be that some overseas doctors have had poor training and when they come to Britain they will catch up quickly and thrive in a better environment. But alternatively some may feel overwhelmed, particularly with new technology that they have not yet come across.”

The GMC asked UCL to carry out the research after it set up a working party to review whether the competency exam needed to be updated. Figures from 2012 showed that of 669 doctors who were struck off or suspended in the previous five years, 420 had trained abroad. The findings come as tougher language checks for European doctors come into force this summer.

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the GMC, said: “We are determined to do what we can to maintain high standards of medical practice in the UK, regardless of where doctors are trained.

Neil Findlay, Scottish Labour’s health spokesman, said: “Foreign doctors must have suitable training and skills to work in the NHS. Ensuring that must be at the heart of the recruitment process here in Scotland.

“We must remember that our health service relies upon large numbers of foreign staff. Our hospitals and health services benefit from the skills of people from all over the world – if we didn’t have these people and their skills then the NHS and patients would be the loser.”