Language Controls for Healthcare Professionals

Closed 15 Dec 2014

Opened 3 Nov 2014


There has been increasing concern that patients may be put at risk of harm through the poor English language skills of a minority of healthcare professionals. 

The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), the General Dental Council (GDC), the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) and the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland (PSNI) are already able to carry out language checks on overseas applicants other than European applicants.  However, they are currently prevented from carrying out language controls on European applicants before they are registered. 

The four UK Health Departments (England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland) are now proposing to amend UK legislation to give powers to the GDC, NMC, GPhC and PSNI to apply fair language controls at a national level.  The proposals will ensure that such professionals who do not have the necessary knowledge of English are not able to practise in the UK. The intention is to ensure patient safety and quality of care in the UK.

We also propose to strengthen the powers of the NMC, GDC, GPhC and PSNI to take fitness to practise action where there are concerns about the English language skills of an already practising professional.

Changes have already been introduced[1] to strengthen the law around language controls for doctors.

[1] See the Medical Act 1983 (Amendment)(Knowledge of English) Order 2014/1101


Why We Are Consulting

We are consulting in order to meet the requirements of Section 60 of the Health Act 1999.  A Section 60 Order in Council allows small changes to the legislation governing the regulation of healthcare professions.   The UK and Scottish Governments must consult on draft Orders before they are introduced into the Westminster and Scottish Parliaments.

The Order aims to prevent patients from being put at risk by any nurses, midwives, dentists, dental care practitioners, pharmacists and pharmacy technicians because they have poor English language skills.

This consultation is asking for your views on the proposed changes. 

What Happens Next

Comments on the consultation process itself

If you have any concerns or comments which you would like to make relating specifically to the consultation process itself please contact:

Consultations Coordinator, Department of Health, 2E08, Quarry House, Quarry Hill, Leeds, LS2 7UE.


Confidentiality of information

We manage the information you provide in response to this consultation in accordance with the Department of Health’s Information Charter (

The Department will process your personal data in accordance with the DPA and in most circumstances this will mean that your personal data will not be disclosed to third parties.

More detail is given in the Consultation Document.


Summary of consultation responses

A summary of the response to this consultation will be made available before or alongside any further action, such as laying legislation before Parliament, and will be placed on the GOV.UK website ( in due course.


  • GPs
  • Nurses
  • Health visitors
  • Pharmacists
  • Doctors
  • Midwives
  • Dentists
  • Regulatory body
  • Academic/ Professional institution
  • Employer representatives
  • Employee representatives
  • Trade union
  • Royal Colleges
  • Local authority
  • Social care provider
  • Members of the public
  • Patients


  • Public health
  • Health protection
  • Health and Social Care Act 2012
  • Primary care
  • Mental health
  • End of life care
  • Maternity services