Lack of checks on overseas nurses and doctors may be putting public safety at risk, says watchdog

Healthcare watchdogs have identified a potential public safety risk in the automatic registration of nurses coming from the European Union (EU). They have indicated automatic registration may be unsafe, as it allows nurses and midwives who have not practiced in decades to be registered without any competency checks.

The Nursing and Midwifery Council’s (NMC) submission to MPs states: “Under the conditions of automatic recognition enshrined in the Directive, we are required to recognise a nurse or midwife’s qualification even if they have been out of practice for a significant length of time. We believe that this poses a public protection risk.”

The NMC’s figures show that in 2015/16, 9,388 nurses and midwives registered to come work in the UK from other EU countries, compared with 3,137 registrations in 2011/12.

Currently, competency tests involving practical exams are only carried out if staff are coming to Britain from countries outside of the EU.  The difference stems from the EU directive to support freedom of movement within the EU.

In its submission to the inquiry, the General Medical Council (GMC) calls for rules on medics to be rewritten in order to close such loopholes for doctors coming to the UK from Europe.

The GMC submission states: “We would like to be able to check that doctors coming to practise here from Europe meet the same standards as those who qualify in the UK and outside Europe.”

However, all this comes at a time when it has been reported that 96% of hospitals have nursing shortages.

Jeremy Hunt MP, Secretary of State for Health, has been summoned to give evidence at the Health Committee amid warnings from Dr Sarah Wollaston, the committee’s chair, that Brexit poses an “exceptional challenge” to Britain’s systems of health and social care. Mr Hunt has repeatedly said that healthcare workers already working in Britain should be given assurances that they can stay, following Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union.