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Commission proposes update of rules on cross-border recognition of professional qualifications, including for medical practitioners
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The European Commission has today adopted a proposal for modernising EU law on the recognition of professional qualifications.  This proposal covers a number of issues, in particular with regard to medical practitioners, where UK stakeholders had expressed concerns during a comprehensive consultation process based on a June 2011 Green Paper.

Today's proposal has two main aims. First, to make it easier for professionals with the right qualifications and skills to work in other Member States than their own and thus to help fill rising demand for highly skilled people, which between now and 2020 is projected to rise by over 16 million jobs across the EU [1]. Second, to reinforce protection for consumers and patients by addressing public concerns, notably about language skills and over the need for more comprehensive alerts about professional malpractice, notably in the health sector.

    Commission proposes update of rules on cross-border recognition of professional qualifications, including for medical practitioners

    The main new elements in the proposal are as follows. The introduction of a European professional card in the form of an electronic certificate will offer easier and quicker recognition of qualifications. All those seeking recognition of their professional qualifications will be able to go to a one-stop shop allowing them to obtain information about the documents required and where they can also complete all online recognition procedures.  Minimum training requirements for doctors, dentists, pharmacists, nurses, midwives, veterinary surgeons and architects will be updated.

    Under a new alert mechanism, whenever a health professional is prohibited from practising, the authorities in all Member States will be informed. Automatic recognition of qualifications will be extended to new professions through the introduction of common training frameworks and common training tests.

    Finally, there will be a full mutual evaluation exercise by Member States, to determine whether current national provisions regulating certain professions and restricting access to them are justified and proportionate.

    Medical professions: language skills

    The concerns expressed by various UK and other stakeholders during the consultation process on ensuring medical practitioners have appropriate language skills have already been largely met, through changes made by the UK and others in their implementation of current EU law. This was done in consultation with the Commission.

    No major changes to the legislation itself were required or were requested by the UK, as national authorities are fully able under existing EU law to ensure that language skills are tested before any practitioner takes up employment or is given permission to practice on a self-employed basis.

    Nevertheless, for additional certainty, today's proposal formally clarifies two issues.

    First, it stipulates that the checking of the language knowledge of a professional should take place only after the host Member State has formally recognised the qualification, in order to avoid discrimination and unnecessary costs and so that testing can be tailored to the specific type of work the practitioner intends to undertake.

    Second, the proposal states that in the case of professions with implications for patient safety, competent authorities can carry out systematic language examinations covering each professional concerned before they begin work, if this is requested by the national healthcare system or by national patients' organisations.  

    In practical terms, this means that the National Health Service can continue to perform controls itself, according to its judgment of the need to perform checks on the language skills of individual medical practitioners or categories of practitioners. Alternatively, it can request the government to undertake this task or to delegate it to a regulator.

    Insofar as self-employed health professionals are concerned, if recognised patient organisations so request, then the government or the regulator will perform systematic language checks before individuals concerned are permitted to practice. 

    The Commission is proposing changes to the current EU law on two other issues where concerns were expressed during the consultation.

    Alert mechanism for health professions

    An alert mechanism for health professions will be set up: the legislative proposal introduces an obligation for competent authorities of a Member State to inform proactively the competent authorities of all other Member States about a health professional who has been prohibited, even temporarily, from exercising his professional activity.

    This exchange of information will not depend on the host Member State asking for such information - it will be supplied systematically in all such cases and be based on the use of the Internal Market Information system (IMI).

    This obligation applies only to health professionals benefiting from automatic recognition (doctors, nurses, midwives, dentists, pharmacists, veterinary surgeons). The implementation of these changes to the rules must take account of European data protection rules and the presumption of innocence.

    Minimum training requirements

    In addition, the Commission is proposing some changes in minimum training requirements for doctors, nurses, midwives and architects. For example, for doctors, the proposal clarifies that basic medical education should be based on 5,500 training hours, which can be done within a minimum of five years and for nurses and midwives, it is proposed to upgrade the entry level to nursing / midwifery training from 10 years to 12 years of general education.

    Next steps 

    The Commission's proposal will now go to the Council (Member State Ministers) and the European Parliament for debate. Agreement between those two institutions is required before the proposal can be implemented.

    It is expected to come into force around 2015. Meanwhile, the existing rules will remain in force.

    Those rules do allow Member States to check that medical professionals wishing to work on their territory are adequately qualified, including with regard to language skills, and that they are not subject to disciplinary sanctions or procedures. The UK has indicated that it intends to reinforce its own system of language controls, while remaining in conformity with current EU law. 

     

    [1] Skill supply and demand in Europe: medium-term forecast up to 2020 (2010), available here 

     

    For more information, please contact the London press office on 020 7973 1971.
    Please note: all amounts expressed in sterling are for information purposes only.

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    Last update: 19/12/2011  |Top