Nurses with a poor command of English pose potential risks to healthcare levels, fertility expert Lord Robert Winston has warned.
In the Lords, he pointed to particular problems with nurses coming from Eastern Bloc countries like Romania and Bulgaria.
“That communication between the patient and the professional is of vital importance,” Lord Winston told peers.
“We run the risk of losing it with this issue of nurses who can’t speak the English language and have been trained in a different way.
“I’m particularly concerned about nurses coming from the east bloc of Europe. For example: Romania and Bulgaria.”
Lord Winston said he was well aware from his work abroad of the “limited communication even in their own language” that such healthcare professionals had.
“If we aren’t careful we will increase that in our own health service.”
He urged ministers to fight for better communication standards in its dealings with other European states.
“I hope we can make the strongest case possible to make sure we get proper communication between patient and carer.”
His comments came as the Lords debated different training standards for health workers coming to work in the UK from within the European Economic Area and without.
Junior health minister Earl Howe acknowledged that Lord Winston was right to raise language problems.
He said rules stated that health workers benefiting from “automatic recognition” when coming to work here had to have a “knowledge of language” necessary for practising in the relevant member state.
But case law from the Court of Justice precluded systematic language testing at the point of registration.
European Commission guidance stated that “lack of language knowledge cannot be a grounds for refusal of recognition”.
He said that while a competent authority could test the communication skills of a health care worker from a non-EEA country, they could not “routinely or systematically do the same for an EEA worker”.
Language checks before a professional took a job could be undertaken provided they were proportionate.
“In the UK we have implemented a system of checks at a local level through duties on primary care trusts and guidelines to local NHS employers.”
Lord Howe said it was an issue of major importance for the quality of care.
“We’ve already taken steps to strengthen the system.”
Ministers were working with the General Medical Council to develop further proposals building on the existing duties.