UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage has said that doctors who do not speak English to an adequate level should be banned from working in the NHS. He also labelled inability to train enough doctors to meet current demand as “scandalous”, and called for an efficiency drive within the NHS to cut down on management and drive up standards. The statements mark the first of Ukip’s policies to be unveiled before the General Election in May.
In a wide ranging interview with Sky News’ Murnaghan programme, Farage said “Don’t we want to live in a country where we speak the same language? And isn’t it scandalous that we are not training enough nurses and doctors in our own country?
“I don’t know about you, whether you’ve ever been to a GP that didn’t speak very good English, but it’s something that people out there are talking about. The whole point about immigration, whether it impacts on the health service or elsewhere, is that we have to have proper integration.”
Asked whether he would sack non-English doctors in the NHS, Farage responded: “If people don’t speak English and they are dealing with English-speaking patients then surely they shouldn’t be employed in the first place.”
The General Medical Council currently insists that doctors registering to work in the UK pass a test under the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). However, that system has been slammed as not fit for purpose by doctors working within the NHS.
Dr Jonathan Stanley, a Ukip parliamentary candidate who has been practising medicine within NHS hospitals for a decade told Breitbart London: “The current system is no good. The test that foreign doctors have to take is only for conversational English, but that is not adequate for the scope of a doctor’s workload which includes delicate conversations with relatives and writing detailed clinical letters.
“I’ve seen entire ward rounds in South Yorkshire conducted in Urdu. That sort of thing upsets patients and their relatives, who feel they may not be getting the best care. Meanwhile, doctors from within the EU don’t need to pass any sort of test at all.
“Ideally we would like to see a system in which a standardised test, the second part of the PLAB exam, is toughened up and brought in for every doctor working in the UK. It could be incorporated into the final year exams for British students training to be doctors, and also given to any foreign doctor wanting to work within the NHS, no matter which country they hailed from.
“That would universally raise standards and force EU docs for the first time to be assessed on basics like dictating a clinic letter, ordering a scan, explaining a plan to relatives and breaking bad news. There is no excuse not to be doing this.
“Doctors already face a competency review every five years so it should also be included in that. That would start to weed out all those currently in the system who are not up to the required standard. Their licence to practice would simply be revoked.”
But Dr Stanley explained that the problem is not only about language skills. “Ukip’s plans are all about driving up standards of care within the system,” he said. “For too long the NHS has been used as a political football, and the government has just been buying in foreign workers as an off-the-shelf solution to staffing shortages with no thought for the consequences in terms of standards of care.
“What’s more, the current system is rigged to suit regulators and the government. There’s cash all round from the moment a foreign doctor is registered by the GMC: GMC’s fees are £400 a year, the British Medical Association’s fees are the same, and the government gets cheap plentiful supply of doctors instantly available for the NHS.”
Last April the Daily Mail reported that the NHS was recruiting 50 doctors from India via Skype in a bid to plug a staffing shortage in Accident and Emergency departments – some of whom had not even passed final year exams yet. The recruitment drive cost the NHS £3,120 per doctor in flights, visas, registration and access to training tools.
“This isn’t a crisis, this is simply acute panic on chronic failure to plan properly,” said Dr Stanley. “Finland and Japan don’t have this problem. There is no pool of conversational Finnish or Japanese speaking nurses to pilfer from abroad so these countries have committed to training, and treating, their own staff well to keep them at home.”
On the wider issue of NHS finance, Farage was clear that there is scope for more savings to be made in the budget, saying “Without any shadow of a doubt there is, although overall health spending is going to go up over the next few years because our population is rising so rapidly.
“So there’s no way around that – this is going to be costing us more money in a few years’ time than it is now. That doesn’t mean that it can’t be more efficient.
“The savings are clear, aren’t they, in the sense that the growth of middle management staff in the NHS since 1997, it’s gone up by 48 per cent. Don’t tell me there aren’t efficiencies that can’t be made, there are.”