Tests taken by foreign doctors who want to work in the NHS should be made harder to pass to bring them in line with UK standards, a study has said. Research by University College London found a “performance gap” between international and UK medical graduates.

It said pass marks for entry exams sat by international doctors should therefore be set “considerably higher”. But the British International Doctors Association disputed the findings and called for a standardized test for all.

The research, commissioned by the General Medical Council (GMC), said 1,300 foreign doctors a year passed the competency exams, which assess clinical and language skills.

But it warned their subsequent performance indicated that half of them should not have qualified. It suggested raising the pass mark from 63 to 76%.  Chris McManus, professor of psychology and medical education at UCL, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this was the easy solution for the short term.

“In the longer term, I think there probably has to be a national qualifying exam which would be sat by everybody. But that’s actually surprisingly hard to put in place,” he said.

More should be done to support foreign doctors coming to the UK, GMC chief executive Niall Dickson says  Prof McManus added: “The evidence is that some of those at the bottom end of the distribution are not performing as well.

“I have to emphasize, many of those at the top end are extremely good and the NHS depends on them. They’re experts. They’re specialists and so on. Figures showed that in the five years to 2012, 669 doctors were struck off or suspended – 420 of those had trained abroad.

Umesh Prabhu, national vice-chairman of the British International Doctors Association (BIDA), said he would only support raising pass marks if there was proof all doctors were tested to the same standard. “Overseas doctors have contributed tremendously to the National Health Service,” Dr Prabhu told the BBC.

“And the NHS wouldn’t survive without overseas doctors’ contribution. The number of overseas doctors who have been struck off is a very tiny number.

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