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English language assessments

This page provides information on English language assessments.

Where concerns relate to a doctor’s knowledge of the English language, we may direct a doctor to undergo an assessment of their knowledge of English. The doctor will be issued a 90 day deadline to complete the test and send the results to us.

An English language assessment may form one part of a wider investigation into a doctor's fitness to practise.

Concerns about a doctor's knowledge of English may arise from information referred by the doctor's employers or from one or more patient complaints.

The assessment process

The test we accept is the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) test, a test of English language proficiency provided by the British Council. Doctors seeking to take an IELTS test can find further information on the British Council website.

Taking the International English Language Testing Service (IELTS) test is a good way of a doctor demonstrating to us whether they currently have adequate knowledge of English to safely practise medicine in the UK, and this could be relevant to how we conclude their case. Read our FAQ for doctors directed to have an assessment (pdf).

What might trigger an English language assessment?

The kinds of concerns that may trigger an assessment of a doctor's knowledge of English include:

  • a complaint or series of complaints from a patient, health professional or another party due to a concern that a doctor’s lack of knowledge of English presents a risk to patients
  • a decision or finding by an overseas medical regulatory authority that a doctor does not have sufficient knowledge of English to safely treat patients in an English speaking context
  • serious performance concerns which appear to be linked to the doctor’s knowledge of English
  • prescribing error(s) causing harm or risk of harm to patient where the underlying cause appears to be poor knowledge of English
  • a serious instance or a persistent pattern of poor record keeping linked to a lack of knowledge of English.

These are examples only and are not exhaustive.

Refusal to undergo an assessment

If a doctor refuses to undergo an assessment or fails to complete the assessment within the 90 day period directed, the doctor may be referred to the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) for a medical practitioners tribunal to consider whether action is required on their registration.

What happens after the assessment?

Following the assessment, the case will be considered by two GMC staff known as case examiners (one medical and one non-medical). The case examiners will consider all the evidence that has been gathered during the investigation and not just the contents of the English language assessment. There are a number of options available to the case examiners at this stage:

  • conclude the case with no further action;
  • refer the case for a medical practitioners tribunal hearing with the MPTS;
  • agree undertakings.