According to Peers in the House of Lords, patients are being put at “unacceptable risk” because of EU rules governing the free movement of health workers, the BBC reports this week.
A House of Lords committee said the current balance between free movement of labour and safety had been skewed.
It said regulatory bodies should be able to test the language skills of all doctors, nurses, midwives, dentists and pharmacists wanting to work in the UK.
They also called for better sharing of data about the disciplinary history of staff seeking to work abroad.
The ability of health professionals – and in particular doctors – to work across the European Economic Area (EEA) has been a controversial issue in the UK in recent years.
It hit the headlines after the case of Daniel Ubani, a German locum doctor, who gave 70-year-old David Gray a fatal painkiller overdose on his first and only shift in Britain in February 2008.
Investigations found Dr Ubani had been rejected for work in Leeds because of his poor English skills, but had been allowed on an approved list by another trust.
A UK coroner recorded a verdict of unlawful killing and accused Dr Ubani of gross negligence.
The GP was given a suspended sentence in Germany for death by negligence but has still been able to work there.
Since the case, ministers and the General Medical Council, which regulates doctors in the UK, have expressed frustration at the current situation.
The European Commission has already announced a review of the rules with firm proposals expected by the end of the year.
It is likely they will recommend a tightening of the rules, although it could take another year for the changes to be made.
In the meantime ministers in England have placed a duty on local trusts to vet the language skills of doctors – they have had the power to do this but it was inconsistently carried out – as well as giving the GMC powers to investigate language competency where concerns are raised.
But the conclusions reached by the House of Lords social policies and consumer protection committee call for a much more radical overhaul.
The peers have suggested that an alert system be set up to ensure that information about disciplinary procedures are shared between regulators from different countries.
They also want regulators to be given the power to vet language skills – as they have for doctors from outside the EEA – while the qualifications and skills recognised as being appropriate need to be updated to ensure staff are trained to the appropriate standards.
Committee chairwoman Baroness Young said: “It is absolutely unacceptable that current EU rules put patients at risk. The EU is failing our patients.
“We recognise that mobility can bring significant benefits, but we have to make sure that this is not at the expense of patients’ health, care and confidence.”
The report has been warmly welcomed by regulators, ministers and campaigners in the UK.
Niall Dickson, chief executive of the General Medical Council, said: ‘The committee is right – the safety of patients should always come first. Like us, they believe that current EU rules are putting patients at risk and urgent changes are needed.”
And Peter Walsh, chief executive of Action Against Medical Accidents, described the current arrangements as “crazy”.
“Patient safety must be put before political correctness.”
Health Secretary Andrew Lansley added: “It’s completely unacceptable for doctors to work in the NHS if they can’t speak English properly.” Source: BBC
The EU law also covers nurses, prompting Lord Winston, the IVF pioneer and broadcaster, to speak out recently about the threat posed by the ‘poor communication skills’ of nurses recruited from EU countries such as Romania.
Despite the protests the fact is Britain has signed up to Article 39 of the EC Treaty allowing ‘free movement for EU workers.
This means that every EU national has the right to work, and at the same time live, in any other EU country, according to the European Commission.
Nationals of Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovenia and Slovakia may face temporary restrictions on working in another country, but for no more than 7 years after their countries joined the EU (Bulgaria and Romania joined on 1 January 2007, all the others on 1 May 2004).
A common misconception by British employers is that all members of the European Union have the same rights to work here. However, not all EU members have the right to freely work in the UK.
As members of the European Union, Bulgarians and Romanians have visa-free access to the UK, however, they do not enjoy the same rights to work as the earlier A8 Eastern European EU accession countries such as Poland and Latvia.
Romanian and Bulgarian citizens who exercise their Treaty Rights (under Article 39) and apply for an accession card as students taking vocational or sandwich courses (e.g. NVQ/QCF in Health and Social Care), are allowed to work full time, as stated on their Yellow Cards.
As a further restriction, the UK Border Agency has started compelling Bulgarians and Romanians to take out Comprehensive Sickness Insurance cover when applying for yellow card registration as a working student. The insurance is a new requirement introduced as part of changes to the BR1 Yellow Card form in June…Full story…
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