Britain’s decision to leave the European Union will make patients safer by allowing the NHS to crack down on poor English skills among staff, the country’s top surgeon has said.
Clare Marx, President of the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS), urged health bosses to "seize the moment" by toughening up English language entry tests.
She added that leaving EU working time rules would significantly improve patient safety by allowing surgeons to undergo thousands of hours of extra training.
Shaking off Brussels regulations may also ensure higher standards of surgical equipment, she said.
While the RCS remained neutral during the referendum campaign, Clare Marx said that, following the result, the NHS should use Brexit to reform regulations that get in the way of safer care.
Describing Brexit as "quite an opportunity", she said: "We are concerned that the current testing remains insufficient and risks patient safety. We do language testing but we don’t do medical language testing. That language test is often just simply talking about everyday life."
Under current EU legislation, all doctors and dentists who come to the UK from other member states must pass an English language test, which is based on everyday scenarios.
National regulators, however, are not allowed to insist that applicants from other EU countries prove their technical vocabulary in a clinical setting.
The problem was illustrated by the case of Dr Daniel Ubani, who was struck off the medical register after administering a tenfold overdose that killed a patient in 2008.
A coroner subsequently demanded that the Government clarify its guidance to NHS trusts over checking doctors’ English skills.
Miss Marx also claimed that leaving the EU would allow surgeons to undergo up to 3,000 hours of extra training.
The EU Working Time Directive, which has been phased into British law since 1998, is a source of acute frustration for surgeons.
Many believe it deprives them of the chance to perform enough procedures to become fully competent because of the strictures it imposes on shift patterns.
Although many doctors opt out of the directive, NHS trusts are obliged to draw up rotas that comply with the rules.
This often means that doctors who are on call, but who sleep undisturbed through their shift, are nevertheless sent home "to rest" when they could be taking part in training.
Miss Marx said the directive particularly impedes emergency surgery training, as emergency procedures are, by their nature, impossible to schedule and often take place when trainee surgeons are not allowed to work.
RCS analysis estimates that compliance with the working time directive costs each doctor approximately 3,000 hours of training time in the eight to 15 years it takes to qualify as a consultant surgeon.
"Because of the working time regulations it’s been extremely difficult to get surgeons enough training," she told the Telegraph.
"We have progressively seen doctors anxious because they are not getting enough hours.
"To get good at something you need repetitive experience in a training environment."
Clare Marx also believes Brexit could enable the UK top enforce a higher quality of surgical tools and instruments, which are currently assessed and signed off by an EU regulator.
"The gold standard of testing and regulation is in Great Britain," she said.
"We would like to see proper standards on medical devices imported from other countries.
"At present the testing in Europe is not as stringent as the UK requirement."
She gave the example of laparoscopic instruments, used in key-hole surgery, around some of which there are reliability concerns.
Approximately 22 per cent of surgeons working in England trained in the EU, and Miss Marx said the profession was anxious to hear assurances from the new Government that those doctors would be allowed to remain in the UK.
Source: The Telegraph