German Medical Board Raises Alarm over Foreign Doctors After Mistakes Cost Patient Lives

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, doctor Hans Fried and Eleonora Ambrad talk inside the new research center for dementia diseases DZNE at the university hospital in Bonn, Germany, on March 15, 2017.
WOLFGANG RATTAY/AFP/Getty Images

Medical authorities in Germany have sounded the alarm over gaps in professional knowledge of doctors from outside of Europe, which they say threaten the quality of patient care.

The incompetence of foreign doctors has cost lives, according to the medical association of Westphalia-Lippe, because district authorities can only test foreign recruits’ language skills and are prevented from checking their professional capabilities.

The failure rate of doctors taking language tests in the region is 50 per cent, according to association president Theodor Windhorst, who said the tests have exposed “extreme technical deficiencies” in candidates, on which the board of Westphalia-Lippe is not allowed to act, in addition to highlighting language problems.

“It is a thorn in our side that we are not permitted to take action if we notice shortcomings in their professional ability,” he said, telling local media that such skill gaps had cost patients’ lives in the district and that this has been evidenced by judicial decisions.

For example, the Neue Westfälische pointed to a case in which a baby died during birth at a hospital in Westphalia-Lippe due to apparent lack of medical knowledge shown by a gynaecologist who was qualified in Libya.

Though handed a suspended sentence for negligent homicide, the doctor went on to work in another German hospital, according to the newspaper.

It referred to a second case, in which a man who was heavily under the influence of alcohol died of a brain haemorrhage, having been taken to hospital in an ambulance then referred to psychiatry.

The Westphalia-Lippe Medical Association highlighted that both the person responsible for the patient’s emergency care and the on-duty psychiatrist were physicians “with [non-EU] foreign degrees and questionable proficiency in the German language”.

Commenting on the story, the Neue Westfälische said it has no wish to “bring about general suspicion” of non-European doctors — without whom it claimed, “our medical care would be unimaginable and undesirable”.

But the newspaper stated in an editorial: “It is unacceptable that indications of technical skills deficits in the language tests are ignored for formal legal reasons, as it were, then revealed in practice.

“If, in language tests for foreign physicians, well-founded doubts about a sufficient professional qualification of the examinee emerge, there must be bureaucratic mechanisms that take up and look into these doubts, so as to strengthen the trust between the patient and the medical profession as a whole,” the Neue Westfälische concluded.

An investigation by the Sunday Telegraph in 2012 revealed that three-quarters of doctors struck off in Britain were trained abroad, with foreign doctors five times more likely to be removed or suspended from the medical register than those trained in the UK.

India was the country with the biggest single number of doctors who were struck off or suspended, followed by Nigeria and Egypt, according to data obtained by the newspaper using Freedom of Information requests.

.