Home » News/Views » Use Brexit to improve patient safety, say surgeons

Use Brexit to improve patient safety, say surgeons

30 December 2016

In a position paper published in December the Royal College of Surgeons has called on the government to use Brexit to strengthen language testing for overseas doctors and increase the time allocated to medical training.

At present, doctors from non-European countries wishing to work in Britain have to pass the Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board (PLAB), a test of both their medical knowledge and their ability to communicate with patients. For doctors from the EU, the European Economic Area and Switzerland, the General Medical Council can give them a licence to practise solely on the basis of their application, without any test. 

Time to tighten up

The paper, “Making the Best of Brexit for the NHS”, says that the law should be changed to allow the same language tests to apply to staff from the EU as the rest of the world, so that they measure English language capability in a clinical setting. They also urge other regulatory authorities, the General Dental Council and the Nursing and Midwifery Council, to tighten up their language requirements of foreign graduates, which are currently less than those of the General Medical Council.

The surgeons also want changes to working hours for doctors in training. The paper says the implementation of the European Working Time Directive has undermined surgical training, introducing inflexibility in rotas, and disrupting the continuity of patient care.

‘Adverse impact’

In 2014 a European Working Time Directive Taskforce made up of royal colleges, the BMA, employers, junior doctors, and patients concluded the Directive has had an adverse impact on the NHS. In a survey of 1,200 UK surgical trainees, 71 per cent felt EU working time rules had a negative effect on their training.

The President of the Royal College of Surgeons, Clare Marx, said, “We’ve had to accept laws and regulation on issues such as language testing of non-UK staff, professional qualifications, working time, and the safety of medical devices and drugs which perhaps fell short of our own standards or hindered our ability to do our jobs to the highest safety standards. Brexit allows us to correct this.

“The RCS strongly believes that if the opportunity is seized…improved patient safety in the NHS could be a positive legacy of Brexit.”