Foreign doctors who want to work for the NHS in England will have to prove they can speak English well enough to treat patients, the government has confirmed.

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The General Medical Council (GMC) pushed for stronger language testing following the case of David Gray, from Manea, in Cambridgeshire, who died in 2008 after being given 10 times the normal dose of diamorphine by German doctor Daniel Ubani.

Dr Ubani later admitted being exhausted after getting only a couple of hours of sleep before starting his shift in the UK. He also said he was confused about the difference between the drugs used here and in Germany.

His poor English meant he was refused work by the NHS in one part of the country but was later accepted in Cornwall.

Those coming to the UK from outside the EU already face strict language tests. But doctors from within the European Economic Area are believed to have registered to work in the NHS without being asked if they can speak English properly.

The government is proposing to give the GMC new powers to prevent doctors from being granted a licence to practise medicine in the UK where concerns arise about their ability to speak English.

Health Minister Dr Dan Poulter said: “Patients should be able to understand and be understood by their doctor if we are to give them the best care they deserve.

“These new checks will ensure that all doctors who want to work in the NHS can speak proficient English and to prevent those who can’t from treating patients.

“There are lots of excellent doctors from around the world working in the NHS – this is simply about protecting patients and having proper checks on a doctor’s ability to speak English.”

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the General Medical Council, said: “This is good news for patients. The health minister’s announcement will help strengthen patient safety across the UK.”

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