Doctors’ language barrier fears may lead to EU exam

DOCTORS from eastern Europe may have to sit an English language exam before being allowed to practice here.

The Irish Medical Council has proposed that doctors from the EU accession states sit an English test amid fears that the standard of English might be inadequate.

The council said there had been a considerable increase in the number of doctors from eastern Europe coming to work here in recent years, particularly since the 10 new accession countries joined the EU in mid-2004.

However, under EU rules, it is discriminatory to ask EU nationals from particular countries to undergo a language test, meaning that a language test may have to be introduced for nationals of all the EU countries.

Chairman of the council’s Education and Training Committee, Professor Anthony Cunningham, told Irish Medical News that it was proposed that all new entrants to medical schools in Ireland should take an English language test.

The proposal has been put to the deans of the five medical schools, and if it is accepted a similar language test could be introduced for all graduates of medical schools in the EU.

Irish students would also be expected to sit the exam.

“We are concerned that graduates from the former eastern European states may not have sufficient competency in the English language to allow them to communicate effectively with patients,” Dr Cunningham said.

President of the council, Dr John Hillery, said there was some concern about English language skills, as these were a crucial part of patient consultation.

“It does seem strange that we have to test doctors outside the EU, many of whom have good language skills,” he said.

Figures from the council show that in March 2004 there were only 10 fully registered doctors from the accession countries working here. The number soared to 297 by last October, with 133 from Poland.

More in this section