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Passport to practise could threaten patient safety

GMC urges government and European Commission to assess impact before introducing card

Louise Prime

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Freedom of movement in Europe must not be allowed to compromise patient safety, the General Medical Council warned this morning. It insisted that the UK government and European Commission should assess the potential impact of the proposed new ‘passport to practise’ card system before extending it to doctors, because it has the potential to endanger patients in the UK.

From next January a new ‘European professional card’ will be introduced for many health professionals including nurses, pharmacists and physiotherapists, forcing the UK to rely on other European countries’ regulators to ensure that those coming to work here have the required documents and qualifications.

The GMC said that already, under European law, it is not allowed to check the skills or competence of doctors coming to the UK from the rest of Europe. It is concerned that introducing the ‘passport’ for doctors – which is expected to happen from 2018 – will further jeopardise its ability to protect patients in the UK.

There has been a sharp increase in the number of doctors coming to work in the UK from certain European countries; about 10% (24,000) of doctors currently working here qualified in other European states. The GMC said that it and many other European regulators believe that extending the card system to doctors will further weaken their ability to check that doctors moving between countries are safe to practise. It warned:

  • The amount of time for checking doctors’ qualifications will be cut in half.
  • The GMC will have to rely on the doctor’s home state regulator to check their qualifications.
  • The GMC will lose all direct contact with the doctor, and have to rely on their home state regulator to verify documents on its behalf.
  • Member states will not be required to check the new pan-European doctor warning system which highlights any safety concerns about individuals when it comes into force in January 2016.

GMC chief executive Niall Dickson (pictured) said: “The UK has long relied on professionals from all over the world to run the NHS and we continue to depend on their skill and dedication. But there are major weaknesses in the regulatory system and it must be right that every country in the EU should be able to check that doctors coming to work within their borders have the competency, skills and cultural understanding to treat its patients safely.

“We believe that the introduction of the European professional card for doctors would further jeopardise our ability to protect patients in the UK. We are calling on the European Commission to undertake a full, independent assessment of the impact of the card on nurses, pharmacists and physiotherapists in order to identify any patient safety concerns before it is extended to doctors.”

The GMC also urged the UK Government to include patient safety considerations as part of its negotiations on the future of the UK’s continued membership of the EU.

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