The European Union is considering a “warning system” for overseas health workers who have been struck off or suspended, and greater language tests.
The European Commission this week put forward proposals for an updated directive on the recognition of professional qualifications. It could mean more stringent checks on nurses coming from overseas to work in the UK.
Provisions for health include a system whereby UK professional regulators – in the case of nursing the Nursing and Midwifery Council – would be warned if a doctor or nurse had been struck off or suspended from the register in another EU country.
There is a proposal for a “professional card”, an electronic record for staff which could be sent easily between regulators, and speed up the approval process.
The proposals also include a right for regulatory bodies to check the language skills of health care professionals.
It is something UK health organisations have been pressing for and responds to concerns raised in several high profile cases – for example that of the German out-of-hours locum GP Daniel Ubani, who killed a patient with a huge overdose of diamorphine.
The commission has also proposed new procedures for updating the list of qualifications which will be recognised in the EU, to ensure they meet up to date standards.
However, the Royal College of Nursing called for checks to go further. Chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter said: “The ability to communicate clearly with patients is an essential part of good nursing care. Therefore, the RCN welcomes this proposal which allows for language testing and requires EU regulators to alert each other if a health professional is no longer allowed to practice.
“Equally, as nurses are now delivering more complex levels of care, we are pleased to see that the education standards proposed take this into account,” he said.
But he added: “Despite these positives we remain concerned about the lack of requirement to ensure professionals keep their skills up to date. It is surely a risk to patient safety that a nurse who has not worked for a number of years could, in theory, come to the UK from another EU country and register with the Nursing and Midwifery Council.”
The NHS Confederation, which represents NHS organisations, welcomed some of the proposals but said others needed clarifying or changing. The Confederation’s European office director Elisabetta Zanon 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.
“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.”