From 18 January 2016, new EU law is aiming to improve the mobility of professionals (not just health professionals) across Europe, whilst maintaining stringent safeguards and checks to ensure their competency.
The changes to the law impact on the rules that need to be applied by regulators on:
- assuring language competence
- the provision of an alert mechanism to warn regulators in other member states of practitioners subject to sanctions
- fast track registration based on mutual recognition of professional qualifications
- agreed minimum education and training requirements for mutual recognition
- encouragement of continuing professional development.
What does this mean for employers conducting employment checks?
In practice, these new regulations and revisions do not change the process of conducting employment checks, nor do they alter our guidance to employers.
However, there is the potential for us to see an increased number of healthcare professionals coming to the UK to provide services on a temporary basis. This could mean for a short period, or for short-spells over a longer period of time (for example, to provide locum services) without being required to go through the usual full set of regulatory requirements.
With this in mind, employers will need to be vigilant in checking whether staff they take on are registered on the temporary part of the regulator’s register and seek the necessary assurances as set out in the NHS Employment Check Standards.
Summary of the changes
The key changes that impact on employment practice are outlined below. Further more detailed information about the changes to EU legislation can be found on the NHS European office section of our website.
- Changes to minimum training requirements for health professions benefiting from automatic recognition based on a set of common training frameworks and principles.
- The introduction of the European professional card (EPC). The EPC is an electronic ‘certificate’ (as opposed to a physical card). The certificate will store proof of qualifications and additional information needed to gain recognition in other member states - enabling professionals to move more freely and quickly on a temporary or occasional basis, or to establish themselves in another member state on a more permanent basis. Employers will need to be vigilant when checking the registration, qualifications and right to work of EU nationals to ascertain their leave to remain and any limitations/restrictions to the type of work, or the type of practise they can undertake. If individuals have part-registration this will be indicated when checks are made with the relevant professional regulatory body.
- The introduction of a new Europe-wide alert mechanism aimed at enhancing patient safety across the EU. The alert mechanism will provide professional regulators in host states, with a faster and more reliable system for identifying certain professionals who have been restricted or prohibited from practising in another EEA state using the internal market information (IMI) system. This mechanism should not confused with the alert notice system which will continue to run in parallel and should be the process used by employers in the UK when safeguarding and/or fitness to practise concerns are raised about healthcare workers.
- Language controls – ensuring language competency of healthcare professionals is a key concern, and the NHS Confederation has successfully lobbied for more rigorous English language checks to be brought into force. Regulatory bodies gained increased powers to carry out proportionate checks on professionals where there is a concern about their English language capability in 2014. This has resulted in over 900 EU doctors being refused a licence to practise. The government is also considering introducing new legislation, which will require all NHS organisations (and other public sector bodies) ensure that all staff in public-facing roles can communicate effectively, to at least ‘level 2’ (equivalent to a C or above at GCSE). These changes will be implemented through the new Immigration Bill which is anticipated to come into force in the autumn 2016.
- Further guidance in regard to employers’ responsibilities to assess a healthcare professionals language competency can be found on our website. Further amendments will be made to this document once more information is known about changes under the Immigration Bill.
The NHS Confederation European Office has also issued a briefing on the implications for the NHS as a whole.