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Britain Ponders Language Test for Some Vets, Vet Techs

Poor English proficiency in a veterinary setting could harm animals and people, the government says.

The United Kingdom has more than 18,000 veterinarians.

British Veterinary Association

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European veterinarians pursuing work in the United Kingdom may have to prove that they can communicate in English, according to a government proposal.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is considering allowing the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons to halt the registration of any veterinarian coming from a European Union country if “serious and concrete doubts” are raised about the applicant’s English skills.

“It is felt that animals and members of the public may be put at risk if vets are unable to meet a certain standard of proficiency in English,” a Defra document reads in part. “An example of an unwelcome situation would be a veterinary surgeon unable to understand English language drug labeling and thus unable to ensure that the drugs they dispense for treatment are correct.

“In addition, a large part of the role of the veterinary surgeon is to communicate clearly and effectively with their clients … discuss potential treatments accurately, and ensure that the client is aware of and can agree [to] the proposed treatment.”

The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS)—the regulatory body for veterinarians and veterinary technicians in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland—is asking members to comment on the proposal and whether RCVS should manage a language testing program.

The rule also would be imposed on veterinary technicians, the organization noted in an advisory released today.

“Under the current legislation, the college is not able to bar someone from joining the register, and therefore practicing, on the basis of language ability, even where we may have serious concerns,” said RCVS registrar Gordon Hockey.

Defra noted that 2,125 veterinarians from other European Union countries registered with RCVS—a requirement for employment—over the past three years.

Over a five-year period, according to Defra:

  • 18 of 118 European vets referred to RCVS’s Preliminary Investigation Committee had trouble communicating in English.
  • 6 of 19 European vets referred to the Disciplinary Committee had problems communicating in English. Two required interpreters.
  • 15 European vets registering to practice requested an interpreter.

The language rule would apply to European Union (EU) citizens only. An EU law permits language testing in a wide range of professions when “serious concerns have been identified,” RCVS reported.

“For the vast majority of EU migrant vets who apply to work in the U.K., we believe that there will be no cause for concern and registration will proceed as normal,” Defra stated.

Non-EU veterinarians are subject to language testing in selected cases.

European practitioners and veterinary technicians would be screened through a series of questions “concerning their language qualifications, experience and general ability to use the English language before registering,” RCVS stated.

“Depending on how they answer the questions they may then have to pass a language test before registering, or delay their application while they improve their language skills,” the organization added.

Comments on the proposal are being accepted through Sept. 30 at http://bit.ly/1LytjTR.

“I would encourage all veterinary surgeons, veterinary nurses and other members of the practice team to engage with this consultation and consider whether the college should have the right to impose a language test where it has serious doubts, more in line with medical doctors, and the form such testing would take,” Hockey said.

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