Plans for new language checks on European doctors have received strong support, including from the BMA.
The GMC has said it expects the tougher checks to come into force this summer.
Under current legislation, the GMC can assess overseas doctors applying to work in the UK, but not those from other countries within the EEA (European Economic Area).
The regulator will now work with the Department of Health to amend the legislation to enable the testing to take place.
In a public consultation on the issue, nine out of 10 respondents agreed the GMC should have the power to require a doctor to undergo a language assessment when there is a serious concern about their knowledge of English, and that the GMC should not grant a licence to practise to European doctors who were unable or unwilling to show they have the necessary knowledge of English.
Eight out of 10 respondents felt the GMC should indefinitely suspend doctors who failed to acquire the necessary knowledge of English to treat patients in the UK safely.
The GMC also announced that, from the summer, all overseas doctors who take a test to demonstrate their English language skills will need to achieve a higher score than they do now.
Patient safety paramount
The BMA backed the changes. BMA director of professional activities Vivienne Nathanson (pictured) said: ‘It is vital for patient safety that all doctors, whether from the EEA or otherwise, have an acceptable command of English to communicate effectively to ensure the safety of their patients.
‘Since 2002 the BMA has called for language skills to be made a prerequisite for any doctors wanting to practice in another EU member state and, while we support freedom of movement, it is important that patient safety is paramount at all times.’
Doctors from overseas wanting to practise in the UK will need to achieve an overall score of 7.5 out of 9 in the International English Language Testing System test - up from the current score of seven.
GMC chief executive Niall Dickson said: ‘These new measures to ensure doctors from other European countries can communicate in English, combined with the higher test score requirements, will help us strengthen protection for patients.
‘They will also bring about a greater degree of fairness between our requirements for European doctors and for those from outside Europe.’
He called on employers, including locum agencies, to play their part and ensure all doctors for whom they were responsible could communicate and practise safely.
NHS Employers head of medical pay and workforce Bill McMillan said: ‘These are proportionate, sensible proposals that put patients first by giving employers more power to ensure all NHS doctors can communicate well in English.’
Read the GMC consultation report
The story so far