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Health Professionals (Language Requirement)

Volume 515: debated on Monday 6 September 2010

10. What discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Health on steps to ensure that the standard of English required of migrant health professionals is adequate for the purpose of safe clinical practice. (13092)

I have regular exchanges with my colleagues on matters relating to migration policy. The Government are committed to seeking to stop foreign health care professionals working in the NHS unless they have passed robust language and competence tests. Migrants coming in under the points-based system are already required to meet language tests. The specific criteria for eligibility to practise medicine in the UK are a matter for the Secretary of State for Health.

Is the Minister aware of British Medical Association research showing that 60 to 70% of medical personnel employed by medical locum agencies are recruited from overseas and that many do not have English as a first language? We have already seen the tragic consequences of that in the east of England, with the case of Dr Daniel Ubani. Can the Minister assure me that he will work with the Department of Health to ensure that medical locum agencies take a much more robust approach to recruitment in future?

I am indeed aware of the problem to which my hon. Friend refers, a problem that has an immigration aspect and, obviously, an aspect for the Department of Health. Non-EU workers who work as agency workers would not normally qualify under tier 2 —the work-based route of the points-based system—as they would not be filling a substantive vacancy. Such workers may have arrived here by other routes, such as tier 1 of the points-based system, in which case their language skills would be checked, or as a spouse, in which case they would not. The problem illustrates why efforts to check the language skills of health professionals need to be focused on those who employ them, which is precisely what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health is doing.