I have today laid before Parliament the Government’s response to the House of Commons Health Committee’s report “The use of overseas doctors in providing out-of-hours services: Fifth Report of Session 2009-10” which was published on 8 April 2010.
This Government are committed to ensuring that foreign healthcare professionals are not allowed to work in the national health service unless they have proven their competence and language skills, and we are working with the General Medical Council and others to explore a number of options to put a stop to foreign doctors slipping through the net.
In particular, we plan to explore how the proposed NHS Commissioning Board could oversee a more effective system for undertaking checks on language knowledge of primary care practitioners to address the historic lack of consistency in the application of checks by primary care trusts.
The Government also share the concerns raised by the Committee that since 2004 there have been serious failures in out-of-hours services, both on the part of the Government of the day to secure good value for money from the 2004 reforms and on the part of some primary care trusts to monitor the quality of out-of-hours services effectively since then. This situation has been compounded by a lack of clarity on responsibility between commissioners and providers and little or no integration of out-of-hours care with urgent care.
The Government are committed to providing universal access to high-quality urgent care services 24 hours a day, seven days a week, including out-of-hours services. Our vision for urgent care will be to replace the ad hoc unco-ordinated system that has developed in England over the last 13 years.
We will help the public to better understand what urgent care services are available to them by improving information to support choice and accountability and introducing a new single telephone number to provide consistent clinical assessment at point of contact and direct patients to the right service, first time. The proposed new NHS Commissioning Board will also have a role in ensuring that those commissioning out-of-hours services ensure that contracts with out-of-hours providers detail rigorous standards in respect of the recruitment, induction and training that doctors should receive and that there is more effective contract monitoring.