- Regulators will be required to alert each other about concerns to protect patients
- Directive will also allow regulators to check the language skills of professionals
- Rules come into effect as UK continues to source thousands of NHS staff from the EU
A new European Union warning system designed to prevent rogue healthcare professionals from being able to work undetected in the NHS will come into force on Monday next week.
Under the directive regulators in all EU states, such as the Nursing and Midwifery Council and the General Medical Council, will be required to proactively warn each other when any healthcare worker has previously been struck off or is subject to concerns about their practice.
“It’s absolutely right in the interests of patient safety that we have that mechanism”
It is part of a wider reform to the way professionals move and work between different EU states, including rules on ensuring workers have the necessary language skills to work in different countries and access to continuing professional development that also come into effect next week.
According to the NHS Confederation’s European Office, 11% of NHS doctors originate from a different EU country and the national shortage of nursing staff over the last two years has also seen thousands of EU nurses recruited to the UK.
Some trusts have expressed concerns that new English language checks by the NMC will mean it will take longer to recruit nurses from the EU, although NMC chief executive Jackie Smith stated this was unlikely and that there were no existings backlogs in the process.
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She said: “It is long overdue that we have had the facility to assure the public that there are some mechanisms in place to understand someone’s ability to communicate and practice in English when coming from the EU.
“We do welcome the alert system because we all bleat on within our own countries about need to collaborate and share information and that has to work across boundaries and borders. It’s absolutely right in the interests of patient safety that we have that mechanism,” she said.
“I spent 12 years at the GMC and there were a couple of occasions when an alert system would have been very useful. We will certainly be sharing information but I suspect we will have to encourage other countries to work with us,” she added.
In a recent board paper, Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said: “Whilst the programme of EU recruitment will continue, it is anticipated that the supply of staff will be reduced and timescales elongated due to the NMC introduction of English language testing for EU recruits from 18 January 2016.”
“It’s important that we have European rules facilitating the mobility of these professionals”
However, the new rules could also help to speed up recruitment with professionals able to apply for a new online professional card to facilitate their movement between EU states which could be particularly of benefit to general care nurses.
Elisabetta Zanon, director of the NHS Confederation’s European Office in Brussels, said there had been strong lobbying by the NHS to ensure patients were safeguarded.
She said: “As we depend so much on health professionals… coming from other member states, it’s important that we have European rules facilitating the mobility of these professionals.
“What is really important is to ensure that you have enough safeguards in place to protect patients and to ensure there will be a system to detect professionals who are undergoing disciplinary action in their country of origin,” she told Nursing Times’ sister title Health Service Journal.
Addressing the concerns around time delays in recruiting staff, Ms Zanon said she believed the new rules struck the right balance between allowing free movement of workers in Europe and putting in place effective safeguards to protect patients.