NHS Confederation says patient safety must top the agenda as rules change on mobility of workers

Published on Tuesday, 20 December 2011 11:42
Posted by Scott Buckler

The NHS Confederation’s European Office has welcomed a number of proposals for rules governing the movement of health workers across the European Union but says there are still issues that require further clarity

The NHS Confederation’s European Office has welcomed a number of proposals for rules governing the movement of health workers across the European Union. But it says there are still issues that require further clarity to ensure the safety of patients is not put at risk.

The European Commission's proposals for an updated Directive on the Recognition of Professional Qualifications are intended to make it easier for people to use their skills and practise in other European countries by removing unnecessary obstacles and red tape. The NHS Confederation's European Office has previously called for safeguards, including a European-wide alert system for regulators to warn each other if dangerous or fraudulent health workers try moving to another country to work.

The current proposals recognise that more stringent measures need to apply to health professionals in order to protect patients, and suggests introducing:

·         A warning system so that regulatory bodies across Europe must warn each other if, for example, a doctor or nurse has been struck off or suspended from the register. If the individual then tries to register in another country, the authorities in that country will be forewarned;

·         A right for regulatory bodies to check the language skills of health care professionals – something which UK health organisations have been pressing for;

·         New procedures for updating the list of qualifications which will be recognised in future, aimed at ensuring they meet the minimum training requirements needed to deliver safe, modern services.

However, the European Commission also proposes to introduce a voluntary 'professional card' – an electronic certificate which regulatory authorities, such as the General Medical Council and its European equivalents, could exchange securely over the internet.

The NHS Confederation says that while the aim of speeding up and streamlining the procedures for recognizing professional qualifications obtained in a different Member State is laudable, it has concerns about how realistic and workable the proposals in their current form will be. It says plans to make 'sending' Member States responsible for validating the information on professional cards will be impractical given the potential risk lies with  the 'receiving' countries where health workers will treat patients.

The NHS Confederation also says it is not convinced that shorter timescales for dealing with applications for registration will be safe and achievable. It also says that greater clarification on the final wording of the directive is necessary to ensure the safeguarding of patients .

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

“Healthcare professionals from across the European Union are vital to the success of the NHS. They comprise nearly one in ten of all doctors on the UK medical register so we could not cope without them. We respect the right of EU citizens to have the freedom to move for work, and on the whole the system is working well.

"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. We have pushed hard for some of these changes, for example the introduction of an alert system so that countries can warn each other about dangerous health professionals.

"These proposals mean that regulatory bodies will be allowed to check that healthcare workers can speak good English. 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 European Commission's draft proposals will be considered by the European Parliament and Council during 2012 with a view to passing new legislation late in 2012 or 2013.




 

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