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Patient's safety still not secured, say Lords

The House of Lords EU Committee has written to Norman Lamb MP, Minister for Employment Relations at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) raising a number of concerns about the European Commission's proposed revision of the Mutual Recognition of Professional Qualifications Directive.

The Directive was the subject of an inquiry by the Social Policies and Consumer Protection Sub-Committee, which focused on the mobility of healthcare professionals. Their report, which considered that the Directive did not strike the right balance between encouraging mobility and safeguarding patient safety, was published in October last year, shortly before the Commission proposal to revise the Directive was published on 19 December 2011.

The letter was informed by a round table discussion between the Committee and representatives from the seven automatically recognised professions under the Directive on 26 January. The regulatory bodies are: the General Medical Council, the Nursing and Midwifery Council, the General Dental Council, General Pharmaceutical Council, Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and the Architects Registration Board.  

Lord Roper, Chairman of the Lords EU Committee, has flagged up several areas of concern and asked the Minister for clarification on a number of points. Issues the Committee would like the Government to address are:

  • the need to emphasise the importance of continuing professional development (CPD) in the proposal, as already recommended in the Committee's report;
  • the need to ensure that the use of an alert mechanism applies to all the professions covered by the Directive and not just those which are automatically recognised;
  • ensuring that any amendments of domestic legislation, including the Medical Act, to allow language tests to be conducted by competent authorities  do not conflict with any changes made to the Directive at the EU level;
  • clarification about which aspects of the proposal fall within devolved competence and how these may be affected by the Scotland Bill; and
  • clarification about the likely implications of extending the Directive's scope to cover notaries, particularly as notary publics perform different functions north and south of the border and among Member States.

Baroness Young of Hornsey, Chair of the Social Policies and Consumer Protection Committee, which led the inquiry examining the original proposals, said:

“While there is already a great of deal of consensus between the Committee, stakeholders and the Government regarding how the Directive can be improved, we are still concerned about a number of areas where clarification and improvement would be welcome from the Government as well as the Commission”. 

“It was clear in our original inquiry that transparent sharing of comprehensive information on professionals was fundamental to the safe movement of health professionals and to patients' confidence in the system. The European Commission's proposals on this and the associated alert mechanism lack the clarity required to assure us that patient safety is not at risk of being compromised in the quest for greater mobility”.

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