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NHS Confederation presses for changes to European rules on migrant healthcare workers

The NHS Confederation’s European Office has called for changes to the rules applying to migrant professionals, including healthcare workers, moving from one European Union country to another.

The NHS Confederation’s European Office has called for changes to the rules applying to migrant professionals, including healthcare workers, moving from one European Union country to another.

Responding to the European Commission’s consultation reviewing the EU directive on the recognition of professional qualifications, the NHS Confederation’s European Office emphasises that the potential risks to patients mean that stricter standards need to be in place for healthcare workers compared with other professionals covered by the Directive.

Its response says freedom of movement for health professionals mustn’t be at the expense of safety and quality of care.

The Commission’s directive aims to make it easier for professionals to register and practise in EU countries other than the one they have qualified in. It covers 800 professions, including five healthcare professions.

The NHS Confederation’s European Office’s submission welcomes the opportunity to make positive changes to the directive, such as updating minimum qualifications for healthcare professionals. It also welcomes the suggestion from the Commission that  healthcare professionals could be required to demonstrate that they are keeping their knowledge and skills up to date, instead of relying solely on a qualification they acquired many years ago.

It supports the Commission’s suggestion that regulatory bodies, such as the General Medical Council, could be obliged to alert their counterparts across Europe if fraudulent or incompetent doctors or other healthcare practitioners come to their attention.

However, the European Office response warns against relaxing checks on migrating professionals or diluting standards. On the issue of language tests, it recognises that lack of language skills can lead to serious errors. It is calling on the Commission to explain more clearly the circumstances in which an incoming practitioner’s competence in English could be tested when they seek admission to a professional register.

Nothing can or should lessen  the responsibility of employers to ensure that the person they hire is competent to do the job, and is properly trained and inducted, it says.

Elisabetta Zanon, director of the NHS Confederation’s European Office, said:

““The NHS greatly values the contribution of qualified professionals from other parts of Europe, who comprise nearly one in ten of all doctors on the UK medical register. The right of citizens to have the freedom to move for work is one of the founding principles of the EU and on the whole the system is working well. But there is a tension that needs resolving between the European Commission’s aim to simplify and speed up the recognition of professionals and making sure the right checks and balances are in place to protect patients from dangerous care from health professionals.

“The UK needs to be able to attract highly qualified professionals into the NHS and already benefits enormously from the expertise they bring, but ensuring the safety of patients and the highest possible standards of care must be at the heart of any system to regulate the movement of professionals.”

The European Commission is expected to publish a further consultation on professional qualifications later this year. This will be followed by legal proposals to amend the existing rules in 2012.

Notes to Editors

1.    According to the current Directive on the recognition of professional qualifications:

·        For the five healthcare professions – dentists, doctors, general nurses, midwives and pharmacists – recognition and registration by regulators in another member state is automatic, provided they hold a qualification which is listed in one of the Directive’s annex’s as meeting minimum training requirements;

·        Where healthcare professionals do not hold a recognized qualification (e.g. they hold a specialist nursing qualification) they may still be able to register with UK regulators if they have trained and qualified in the relevant profession and can provide evidence that they have practiced “effectively and lawfully” for a specified minimum number of years in another member state;

·        Professionals registered in one member state can provide services in another member state on a “temporary and occasional” basis, with the minimum of formalities, simply by completing a declaration to the relevant competent authority.

2.    The NHS European Office monitors EU developments and influences them in the interest of the NHS. It is part of the NHS Confederation and funded by the strategic health authorities in England. More information can be found at www.nhsconfed.org/europe

3.    The NHS Confederation is the only body to bring together the full range of organisations that make up the modern NHS. We are an independent membership organisation that represents all types of providers and commissioners of NHS services in England. We also represent trusts and health care boards in Wales; and health and social service trusts and boards in Northern Ireland


Francesca Reville
020 7074 3312

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