Are regulations surrounding EU doctors putting patients at risk?

by Andy Osborne on

Following the House of Lords European Union (EU) sub-committee’s report on the mobility of healthcare professionals, it appears likely that there will be some major changes in the way that EU doctors are treated while practising in the UK.

Under the EU directive on the mutual recognition of professional qualifications, European Economic Area (which includes all of the EU countries plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) medical qualifications are valid across Europe and therefore EU doctors can seek work in any country in the EU area. This promotes the EU’s vision of the freedom of movement for workers.

However, this directive in combination with the Medical Act 1983 has led to the belief that EU doctors could not be given a language test prior to entering into employment in the UK, as it was believed that this would contradict the principle of freedom of movement.

Concerns over EU doctors’ language abilities were heightened following the death of a patient as a result of a German locum GP prescribing them a painkiller overdose during his first shift in England.

The House of Lords’ report follows a number of years campaigning from the British Medical Association (BMA) to bring changes to the EU directive in order to protect patients.

The House of Lords have now stated that the directive must be changed to allow the General Medical Council (GMC) to carry out a ‘one-off test’ at the point of registration and less formal language checks to be carried out by employers locally.

These language tests are to be welcomed as they will ensure that EU doctors have sufficient knowledge and understanding of the English language to enable them to treat patients effectively and appropriately.

However, it is hoped that other areas of the directive can also be further examined and further measures can be put in place to ensure the safety of patients.

At present, the directive does not allow authorities to satisfy themselves that a doctor has kept their skills and competencies up to date. There is also no legal requirement on medical regulators to share registration and fitness to practice information with other regulators in Europe.

It is therefore difficult for the GMC to assess whether a doctor is competent to practice and whether they have been subject any disciplinary action in other countries.

Language testing is therefore a positive step forward, but much more could be done.

Baroness Young of Hornsey (Chairwoman of the House of Lords sub-committee) said, ‘We recognise that mobility within the EU can bring significant benefits, but we have to make sure this is not at the expense of patients’ health, care and confidence’. She also stated that the current EU rules are ‘failing our patients….It is absolutely unacceptable that current EU rules put patients in the UK and elsewhere at risk’.

I fully support Baroness Young of Hornsey’s comments and hope that further measures will be put in place in the future to ensure the safety of patients around Europe.

If you believe that the medical treatment you have received is below a reasonable standard, then we have a dedicated team of clinical negligence solicitors who would be happy to advise you further. Call us for free initial advice on 0844 245 6602.

By medical negligence specialist, Carla Twist

 


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