NHS Employers Organisation Publishes Guidance for Employers on Ensuring Staff are Competent with English Language

Detailed guidance was published today to help NHS trusts ensure new staff have the language skills needed to provide safe, quality care to patients.


Language competency: good practice guidance for employers is published by the NHS Employers organisation and was produced in consultation with key partners including the professional regulators and the Department of Health:

Dean Royles, director of the NHS Employers organisation, said:

"We owe a debt of gratitude for the contribution that staff from other countries have made over the years to the NHS. The patients we serve today from many different nationalities benefit greatly from the diversity of front-line health workers, with many bringing their skills from overseas.

"We recruit thousands of new staff every week and employers know that staff need the right level of English language skills to perform effectively in their role. Many employers have processes in place to assess the language competency and communication skills of all prospective new staff. But we recognise that for some roles and posts, assessment can be challenging and there is some complexity and uncertainty about the rules.

"This new publication will provide employers with good practice guidance when carrying out an assessment of an individuals language competency, clarifies the role of the professional regulators and describes the current European law(1).

"Attention has been focused in recent times on doctors but the assessment of language competency is important for all staff working in the healthcare sector. The guide will help employers develop a system to be assured that all new recruits can communicate clearly with both patients and others members of staff at a level that reflects their role and responsibility.

"It also recommends employers to check that agreements with suppliers of temporary staff include an obligation to supply employees to the organisation with satisfactory language competency."

Niall Dickson, Chief Executive of the General Medical Council, said:

The General Medical Council welcomes this new guidance, which should help employers to ensure that their healthcare professionals have the necessary language skills to practice medicine safely. Patients must have confidence that the doctor who treats them has the necessary communication skills for the job.

Duncan Rudkin, Chief Executive of the General Pharmaceutical Council, said:

"It is absolutely essential that pharmacy and other health professionals can communicate well with their patients and colleagues. This useful guide is a timely reminder of the key responsibilities of employers to make sure those they employ have the necessary language skills."

Michael Guthrie, Director of Policy and Standards at the Health Professions Council, said:

"The Health Professions Council welcomes the introduction of good practice guidance on language competency for NHS organisations. Our standards reflect the need for professionals to communicate effectively with service users and other practitioners, and this new guidance supports employers in achieving this."

The full guidance is available here.

  • (1) European Directive 2005/36/EC recognition of professional qualifications. Available here.
  • The guidance helps employers fulfil existing responsibilities in the Health Circular: HSC 1999/137 Employment of European Economic Areas (EEA) nationals ensuring language competency issued by the Department of Health in June 1999, which makes clear that effective communication is a fundamental element in the delivery of high quality health care services. Available here.
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