European parliament votes through directive on movement of doctorsBMJ 2013; 347 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.f6174 (Published 11 October 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f6174
- Caroline White, freelance journalist, London
The European parliament has given the go ahead to plans to facilitate the movement of doctors and other healthcare professionals among EU countries.1
The vote on the revised directive on mutual recognition of professional qualifications confirms an informal agreement reached by EU decision makers earlier this summer.2
The revisions are expected to be formally approved by the European Council within the next few weeks, after which member states will have two years to pass the directive into national law.
The lengthy process comes after a series of high profile cases in the UK in recent years that have highlighted concerns about the clinical competence and language skills of some healthcare professionals from other EU member states.
The updated directive means that health professionals moving from one European country to another will now have to meet new patient safety requirements, including proof that they can communicate well in English.
The revised directive will permit national regulatory bodies to check health professionals’ language competence and test it where necessary before allowing them to practise.
It will also compel health regulators across Europe to set up an alert system and to proactively warn each other within three days when a health professional has been banned from practice or is under disciplinary sanctions, in a bid to prevent rogue clinicians from “shopping around” Europe to treat patients.
Currently, regulatory bodies need only to respond to requests for information from their European counterparts.
The directive also stipulates that health professionals can acquire professional registration in the country of their choice only if they meet all the minimum training requirements for their profession. European member states will have to actively support continuing professional development for clinicians.
Doctors’ training will also remain at five years―the current standard for medical training in Britain.
Elisabetta Zanon, director of the NHS European Office of the NHS Confederation, said that although it was important for health professionals to be able to move around Europe and use their expertise freely, this should not be at the expense of patient safety, which “must be our first priority,” she emphasised.