The UK government’s Department of Health (DH) is pushing ahead with changes to the law that will require all pharmacists and pharmacy technicians who want to practise in the UK to be proficient in English.
A pharmacist or technician who is not competent in written and spoken English could also be brought before a professional fitness-to-practise (FtP) committee as part of a package of reforms, which was out for consultation in November and December 2014.
The move to ensure a safe working knowledge of the English language is among measures to improve competencies of health professionals and the conditions will also apply to dentists, midwives and nurses.
The individual health profession regulators — including the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) — all backed the principle of the reforms, according to responses to the consultation published by the DH on 29 January 2015.
But the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) and the General Dental Council (GDC) said that their existing regulations already allow them to take an FtP case against a registrant who is unable to communicate clearly with patients, and argued that the law does not need to change.
The Professional Standards Authority, which oversees the UK’s nine health and care professional regulatory bodies, opposed the move to make language competency an FtP issue, claiming that it may lead to an unfair bias of foreign healthcare professionals being brought before FtP hearings.
The GPhC backed the FtP move while the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said it welcomed “proportionate language controls”.
“The majority of responses were supportive of the proposals,” the DH says. “The department believes that the proposals would work to improve patient protection and the standards of care delivered.”
It says that the main concerns raised surrounded the need for consistent criteria across regulatory bodies and the necessity of proposed additional grounds to ensure fitness to practise.
The DH says amendments to legislation — for pharmacists and pharmacy technicians the relevant Orders are the Pharmacy Order 2010 and the Pharmacy (Northern Ireland) Order 1976 — will be put before Parliament with the new Orders in place by the end of March 2015.
Following further public consultation individual professional regulators will then implement the changes through amendments to their own rules.
If approved by Parliament, the changes would apply to pharmacists and technicians in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.