Medical Council urged to review language skill assessment for doctors
Posted on 29th July 2019 at 21:17
MRH doctor’s level of English approved but legal adviser could not understand ‘a word’
The president of the High Court has suggested the Medical Council review how it ensures doctors registered here can adequately communicate with patients and colleagues in English.
Mr Justice Peter Kelly made the suggestion after receiving information concerning the adequacy of the English language skills of Dr Sid Ahmed Hassan Mohammed Hamd, with an address at Alriyadh, Saudi Arabia.
The judge last month suspended Dr Hamd from the medical register here for six months for professional misconduct following a finding by the Council’s Fitness to Practise Committee (FTPC) that he told a female patient he wanted to kiss her.
The judge imposed conditions on the doctor’s registration for two years if he seeks to resume practising medicine here after suspension. Those include a requirement, except in life threatening emergencies, not to examine female patients without a chaperone – a registered doctor, nurse or individual chosen by the patient – and to undertake a course in communication skills.
The patient made several allegations against the doctor, then a registrar at the Midland Regional Hospital emergency department but now working in Saudi Arabia, after being admitted there as a result of a road traffic incident in March 2017. The judge agreed with findings of disgraceful and dishonourable conduct made against Dr Hamd and also expressed serious concern the doctor appeared to have poor English.
That raised concerns how a traumatised patient is to communicate their situation, plus issues about recruitment procedures for medical professionals, he said. He asked the council to address the court’s concerns.
On Monday, JP McDowell, solicitor for the council, said Dr Hamd was admitted as a member of the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland five years ago. On the basis of the doctor having been certified as a member of the RCSI, he was exempt from having to pass a language test administered by the council for registration here.
All three members of an interview panel who interviewed Dr Hahn via Skype over 22 minutes in May 2016 for the position as registrar in emergency medicine at the MRH marked him 55 out of a possible 100 marks for communication skills, Mr McDowell said.
The council is happy to take any directions or recommendations from the court in this matter, he added.
In his ruling, Mr Justice Kelly said it was “difficult to reconcile” the RCSI membership and the interview result with what was said by the complainant patient, nursing colleagues of Dr Hamd’s who gave evidence to the FTPC and members of the FTPC itself about having difficulties understanding him.
Standard of English
The legal adviser to the council, Patricia Dillon SC, told the committee she could not understand “a word” the doctor said when he gave evidence to the committee via Skype, he noted. As there can be difficulties with Skype itself, Dr Hahn was given an opportunity to make written submissions to the inquiry but the standard of English in those was also poor.
The primary obligation of ensuring doctors on the Irish register are competent and able to communicate with patients is for the council, he said.
Mr Justice Kelly said there must also be “question marks” when someone can be interviewed for 22 minutes, get a “clean bill of health” but then, at work, patients, nurses and a FTP committee cannot understand him and he himself says his English is poor.
As the court has limited powers under the Medical Practitioners Act, all he could do is suggest the council re-examines the requirements with a view to ensure doctors on the register can communicate with patients and vice versa, he said. Anything less than that “cannot be safe”.
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