English language testing is a good thing

I support the plans for the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) to test pharmacists and pharmacy technicians from the European Economic Area (EEA) on their levels of English.

Having read the consultation from the Department of Health, it is important to note that the level of English required for doctors and dentists is defined as “a knowledge of English which, in the interests of the professional and their patients, is necessary for the practice of the profession in the UK” and that this will apply to both UK and EEA pharmacists and pharmacy technicians.

What is interesting here is how the level of English will actually be tested for UK pharmacists given that most of them will have studied and completed their pre-registration training in the UK. Will the “signing off” of the pre-registration performance standard B1.1 — communicate effectively in English — not be enough? If this is the case then there would be no need for the GPhC to undertake any assessment of language given that the pre-registration tutors will have already done this at the point of registration.

Currently, for non-EEA applicants, the GPhC only accepts the International English language testing system (IELTS) and requires a minimum level of 7 in every category of the same sitting of the academic IELTS. The new plans will bring EEA applicants into line.

Most of us can say that we have seen pharmacists and pharmacy technicians from within the EEA who do not have the right standard of English to be working in the UK. This is a harsh but true reality. There are plenty of examples that we could collectively come up with, like a simple mistake of mispronouncing a drug name, which is an obvious risk to patient safety. Where pharmacists and pharmacy technicians have a poor standard of English, they are unable to communicate effectively with patients and prescribers causing unnecessary confusion. This is not an acceptable way of working within such an area of healthcare where lives could easily be put at risk from something as simple as not reading one word correctly.

Making the assessment of English language proficiency consistent for all pharmacists and pharmacy technicians will bring us into line with other healthcare professions and will allow the GPhC to regulate language skills in the interests of the patient and the public.

This can only be a good thing for the profession.


Aamer Safdar



Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, 3/10 January 2015, Vol 294, No 7843/4;294(7843/4):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2014.20067383

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