The UK Department of Health (DH) has launched a new consultation to ensure language checks are carried out on foreign doctors.

Health secretary Andrew Lansley has put forward a plan, under which foreign doctors will have to prove their fluency in English before they can practice in England.

As part of the proposals up for consultation, senior doctors will have extra powers to make sure that any doctor working for the NHS can speak English, as the lack of language skills may put patient safety at risk.

"Sadly, we are all too familiar with what can happen when qualified doctors don’t have a good command of English," said Lansley. "This puts patients at risk and I am determined to stop this"

"By giving new powers to responsible officers, we can make sure that doctors not only speak English before they treat patients in this country but are also competent to work within the NHS, making sure that they understand NHS processes and medicines, which is as important as language to the quality of care patients receive. I hope everyone gets involved and has their say."

The 500 responsible officers would work with the General Medical Council (GMC) to make certain that the doctors have undergone all the right checks, including their understanding of NHS processes and medicines.

At present, only foreign doctors have to take language tests, but European laws make it illegal to systematically test EU doctors when they register.

The GMC chief executive Niall Dickson added: "These changes would significantly strengthen the employer checks in England, with responsible officers having a legal duty to work closely with the GMC."