The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) is encouraging veterinary surgeons, veterinary nurses and other members of the practice team to respond to a government consultation on changing the law to introduce English language testing for veterinary surgeons who have qualified from elsewhere in the European Union.

Under the proposals outlined in the consultation by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the test would apply before an individual joined the Register and only where the RCVS had ‘serious and concrete doubts’ about their English language abilities. The plan to consult on this issue had been welcomed by RCVS Council at its June 2015 meeting.

Every year, around half of all new veterinary surgeon registrants are from outside the UK, the majority from other EU or European Economic Area (EEA) countries. These individuals fall within the scope of the Mutual Recognition of Professional Qualifications (MRPQ) Directive, which applies to all EU nationals wishing to practise in a regulated profession in another member state.

Last year, a revised version of the MRPQ Directive came into force, which made a number of changes, including clarifying and reinforcing the role of competent authorities such as the RCVS. One of these changes is that language testing is expressly permitted, but only where serious concerns have been identified.

Gordon Hockey, RCVS Registrar, says: “Under the current legislation the College is not able to bar someone from joining the Register, and therefore practising, on the basis of language ability, even where we may have serious concerns.

“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.”

Under the proposals, applicants would be asked a series of questions concerning their language qualifications, experience and general ability to use the English language before registering. 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 consultation results will inform the College’s work with Defra to determine whether to proceed with implementation and, if so, to develop the most appropriate system of language testing. The College would implement language testing for veterinary nurses in parallel with any changes for veterinary surgeons.

Those who wish to take part in the consultation can do so at https://consult.defra.gov.uk/animal-health-and-welfare/vet_language_controls. The deadline for responses is Wednesday 30 September 2015.