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Lack of EU nurse checks could pose risk to public, warns NMC

Public could be put at risk because the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) is unable to carry out checks on soaring numbers of European Union nurses coming to UK, regulator warns.
nurse under the magnifying glass

The NMC is calling on the government to use Brexit as an opportunity to close a regulatory loophole in nurse competence testing.

In a submission to the Commons health committee about Brexits impact on health and social care, the NMC says competence tests, which involve a practical exam, are only carried out on nurses from outside the EU. The EU directive Recognition of Professional Qualifications requires the NMC to recognise a nurse or midwifes qualification even if they have been out of practice for a significant length of time.

Risk to public

The regulator says patients may be put at risk because it is unable to carry out checks on the growing numbers of European Union nurses coming to the UK.

While we can assure ourselves

The NMC is calling on the government to use Brexit as an opportunity to close a regulatory loophole in nurse competence testing.


The NMC wants gaps in rules over EU nurse checks to be closed post-Brexit Photo: iStock

In a submission to the Commons health committee about Brexit’s impact on health and social care, the NMC says competence tests, which involve a practical exam, are only carried out on nurses from outside the EU. The EU directive Recognition of Professional Qualifications requires the NMC to recognise a nurse or midwife’s qualification even if they have been out of practice for a significant length of time.

Risk to public

The regulator says patients may be put at risk because it is unable to carry out checks on the growing numbers of European Union nurses coming to the UK.

‘While we can assure ourselves of the ability to practise of non-EU trained nurses and midwives through a test of competence before we register them, we are prevented from doing this for EU migrants,’ the NMC states. ‘We believe this poses a public protection risk.’

The NMC registered 9,388 nurses and midwives from the EU to work in the UK in 2015-16, nearly treble the equivalent number for 2011-12. In total, 38,000 of the 690,000 people on the register come from other EU member states.

The right to check

The NMC says nurses who seek UK registration using a European Professional Card, or who only want temporary work, have essential checks carried out by their home country and not the NMC.

The submission adds: ‘We should undertake all of the checks that we deem necessary to ensure nurses and midwives are safe and competent to practise in the UK.’

The regulator wants the government to indicate whether Brexit is likely to result in these directives no longer applying.

Uncertainty over standards

If the provisions of EU directives are removed, the NMC claims its ruling council will have to consider whether it should redraft its standards, such as the The Code, and relating to the duty of candour and raising concerns about patient care, which are currently based on European guidance.

RCN general secretary Janet Davies said: ‘The nursing workforce has taken one blow after another – under-staffing, impossible caseloads, poor pay and being forced to make life and death decisions in hospital corridors.

‘European regulations ensure a standard of education and skill. Any new regulatory requirements will need to balance recognising the skills and experience these nurses bring with patient safety.’

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt is to appear before the Commons health committee on 24 January to give evidence on how the Department of Health intends to handle Brexit negotiations.

The RCN also made a submission to the health committee, making five recommendations:

  1. Develop a coherent workforce strategy that maintains and grows the domestic health and social care workforce, as well as preserving the rights of European Economic Area (EEA) nationals currently working in the sector.
  2. Ensure appropriate education and professional regulatory frameworks, including for nurses trained outside the UK.
  3. Address public health issues collaboratively including communicable diseases crossing borders.
  4. Safeguard decent working conditions, health and safety at work and employment rights.
  5. Maintain opportunities for collaboration and shared learning across borders.

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