New plans to regulate movement of EU medics

PROPOSALS to tighten up the rules surrounding the movement of health workers across the European Union have been given a cautious welcome by NHS chiefs.

New plans put forward by the European Commission make a number of recommendations to update the Directive on the Mutual Recognition of Professional Qualifications.

These include the introduction of a Europe-wide alert system for regulators to warn each other about problem health workers and a right for regulators to check practitioners’ language skills. Under the plans, new procedures would also be brought in to update the list of recognised qualifications to ensure minimum training requirements are being met.

The General Medical Council welcomed plans for a European-wide alert system but expressed concerns that the directive allows doctors to be registered in the UK before their language skills have been tested. GMC chief executive Niall Dickson said the proposal would raise “serious concerns” for patients.

“We will study the detail carefully but it remains our view that the final directive should provide greater safeguards for patients,” he said.

The NHS Confederation’s European office have broadly welcomed the proposals but are calling for further clarity to ensure patient safety.

They have expressed concerns over potentially “unworkable” plans to introduce a voluntary ‘professional card’ – an electronic certificate which regulators such as the GMC could exchange securely over the internet. Under the scheme, the member state where medics originate from would be responsible for verifying the information on the cards, even though the risk lies with the country the medic is travelling to.

Elisabetta Zanon, director of the NHS Confederation’s European office, said: “The European Commission has rightly recognised that healthcare workers are a special case and that stricter rules need to apply to them to protect patients.

“These proposals mean that regulatory bodies will be allowed to check that healthcare workers can speak good English after recognition. However, the details of the Commission’s proposals are still unclear and we will need to ensure the final wording allows the NHS to introduce checks which are fair and workable.

"NHS employers still have significant concerns about other features of the proposals, such as the introduction of a professional card, and we will continue to push over the next few months to ensure that decision-makers in Europe seize this opportunity to update and improve these rules to the benefit of both patients and those who care for them.

"Ensuring the safety of patients and the highest possible quality of care must be at the heart of any system to regulate the movement of professionals."

The EC’s draft proposals will be considered by the European Parliament and Council in 2012 with a view to passing new legislation late 2012 or 2013.

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