12 Sep 2012

Medical Council defends language test

7:45 pm on 12 September 2012

The Medical Council has defended the language test it requires some foreign-trained doctors to pass before they can work in New Zealand.

MPs on Parliament's health select committee on Wednesday grilled the council over the test, which one described as discriminatory.

New Zealand relies on foreign-trained doctors, but before they can work in the country many must pass the International English Language Testing System.

Doctors may have to sit the test if they are from a non-English speaking country or have not come from an institution where English is the main language spoken.

The council's chairperson, Dr John Adams, told MPs it is important that doctors can talk to and understand their patients, and the test is the best at assessing this.

"It's a measure of is somebody able to come and get registered in New Zealand. It's not can we get somebody up to standard - that's not our business or our role.

"We need to know for safe medical practice, is this person's ability up to scratch."

National MP Jackie Blue said the test contains formal not colloquial English and that could discriminate against Pacific Island health workers.

Labour's Maryan Street asked if all health specialists, including those in laboratories, need to pass the test.