Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Is screening of doctors in Northern Ireland flawed?

Review demanded after three medics are struck off for basic blunders

Procedures to ensure foreign doctors working in Northern Ireland are safe to practise must be reviewed to protect patients’ lives, it has been claimed.

At least three foreign doctors who worked in Northern Ireland have been removed from the General Medical Council (GMC) register in recent months over serious concerns for patient safety.

The cases revealed startling and dangerous gaps in their ability to treat patients and prompted calls for better safeguards to be put in place.

In the latest case, a doctor who trained in India before coming to Northern Ireland to work, was removed from the GMC register for a series of blunders that put her patients’ lives at risk.

The GMC fitness to practise panel was told Dr Shanthini Krishnamurthy, who obtained her primary medical degree in India, took a three-year career break prior to taking up a post as a senior house officer in anaesthetics at Antrim Area Hospital.

Jim Wells, deputy chair of the Stormont health committee, said he was stunned to learn that doctors who struggle to speak English and can’t complete even the most basic clinical duties are allowed to work in Northern Ireland.

“If there are procedures in place then these procedures are clearly not working,” he said.

“The GMC needs to look again at how they ensure doctors are safe to practise and the trusts need to ensure they have strict procedures in place before employing a doctor. Being able to speak English is a basic requirement and not being able to communicate with staff and colleagues could have serious consequences.

“All it takes is a small error in the amount of medication a person should get, or the type of medication they need, and it could result in death.”

Currently, everyone who wishes to practise medicine here must be on the GMC register and hold a licence to practise.

All applicants need to demonstrate that their fitness to practise is not impaired before registration can be granted.

International medical graduates, those who qualified outside the European economic area, are subject to additional checks before they can work.

There are more than 245,936 registered medical practitioners on the GMC register. There are 66,493 international graduates, those who qualified outside Europe, and 23,939 European economic area graduates.

Background

The General Medical Council (GMC) registers doctors to practise medicine in the UK. Its purpose is to protect, promote and maintain the health and safety of the public by ensuring proper standards in the practice of medicine. The GMC takes |action where standards have not been met, including imposing restrictions and removing doctors from the register.

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