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Regulator and pharmacist employers want English language controls before 2015

Pharmacy Voice

Pharmacy Voice

Pharmacy Voice does not think language control discussions can wait until 2015

The General Pharmaceutical Council and Pharmacy Voice, a trade body representing 11,000 pharmacies, want the Government to bring in English language controls for European pharmacists before 2015 in the interest of patient safety.

The revised Recognition of Professional Qualifications Directive is expected to be implemented in 2015, when the GPhC will be able to assess the language competence of pharmacists before allowing them access to the profession.

The comments come after the two organisations made submissions to the Department of Health in relation to a consultation on language controls for doctors, which closed today (2 December 2013). The consultation proposed that the General Medical Council would be able to refuse a licence to practise for a doctor who was unable to show the necessary knowledge of English. 

The GPhC told PJ Online: “Although the UK has until 2015 to implement the revised Directive by transposing it into the relevant UK legislation, the UK Government could make the necessary changes to the relevant legislation before then.”

In its response to the consultation, the GPhC says: “We would wish to see these provisions [of the Directive] transposed into the Pharmacy Order at the earliest opportunity. Any delay in transposition would expose patients and the public to continuing risk of harm.” It says it looks forward to working with the DoH on “how the new language provisions can be implemented”.

Pharmacy Voice says that it wishes to see the provisions of the Directive transposed into national legislation “at the earliest opportunity not only for doctors, but also for pharmacy and all other healthcare professionals.”

Rob Darracott, spokesman for Pharmacy Voice, told PJ Online: “We must do it now; we can’t wait until 2015. Let’s start talking about the [the issue] now.” He explained that Pharmacy Voice was reinforcing its position on the issue, in light of the DoH consultation on language controls for doctors.

At the moment, the GPhC cannot ask for evidence of English language competency from European Economic Area-qualified pharmacists who want to register with the GPhC. However, once on the Register, pharmacists are expected to practise under the principles in the GPhC’s standards for conduct, ethics and performance, which include: “Make sure that you and everyone you are responsible for have the language skills to communicate and work effectively with colleagues.”

Language burden on employer

Pharmacy Voice says the current responsibility for testing language capabilities lies with the employer. “This situation adds considerable burden to employers and, given the inevitable variability of such assessments, could be seen to pose a threat to patient safety.”

Although Pharmacy Voice supports the GPhC’s principles, it says it would prefer a more proactive regulatory approach, specifically one that is able to assess the language competence of professionals after recognition but before access to the profession. “Such testing must be proportionate to the skills required for a pharmacist to practise in the field they may have chosen,” it adds.

Pharmacy Voice is calling on the DoH to work urgently with the GPhC and, if necessary, itself and others to find a workable solution for pharmacy.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “We want to take action as soonas possible. That is why we have commissioned our own review of professional regulation [by the Law Commission], including the issue of English language skills, and will implement any necessary changes as soon as we can.”  

A spokeswoman for the Law Commission explained that its review of the law governing regulation of healthcare professionals includes pharmacists. “We intend to publish a report setting out our final recommendations, and a draft Bill, in February 2014. The report will include recommendations to enable the regulators to respond to concerns that arise about a practitioner’s language skills in a way that is compliant with EU legal requirements.” 

A spokesman for the Royal Pharmaceutical Society told PJ Online that it fully supports the ability of the regulator to assure patient safety through language testing. “We have been calling for this for some time and would like it to happen as soon as possible.”

• This article was amended on 4 December 2013 to include responses from the Department of Health and Law Commission.


Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2013.11131329

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