EU directive could allow non GMC-registered doctors to practise in UK

An EU directive likely to come into effect in the next two years could allow non GMC-registered doctors to practise in the UK, the GMC has warned.

Niall Dickson: serious implications for patients' safety
Niall Dickson: serious implications for patients' safety

The GMC raised a number of concerns regarding the European directive on the recognition of professional qualifications which is likely to be passed within a year and implemented the following year.

The GMC warned that the directive could allow non GMC-registered doctors to practise in the UK. Under the new scheme a doctor wishing to work in the UK would apply to their own competent authority (in the UK this is the GMC), which would then forward the application to the GMC.

The GMC would then have two weeks to reply to the application. If the GMC did not reply within two weeks, regardless of whether it believed it had received all of the information required to make a decision, the doctor could consider themselves tacitly authorised and practise in the UK without GMC registration.

Chief executive of the GMC Niall Dickson said the body was greatly concerned by the proposals. ‘We do not believe it is acceptable that because an authority has not responded within a very tight time scale to the application that the doctor should then be able to start practising.'

Mr Dickson said the proposals had serious implication for patient safety. ‘Patients in the UK would have no redress were they treated and harmed by doctors not registered by us but practising in the country,' he said. 

A GMC spokesman said: ‘In practice if we were in any doubt we would reject an application within the two-week time period in order to ensure that doctors could not use the tacit authorisation route in order to practise in the UK. However the very fact of its presence is still obviously a significant concern.’ 

The GMC also raised concerns over the switching of authority implied in the directive, from the receiving registering authority to the issuing home authority of the doctor.

Under the directive, competant authorities will have some language testing powers, however Mr Dickson said the GMC was seeking further clarity on what powers the GMC would have.

‘We would like more clarification in that on what competent authorities can do, that they should be able to require evidence of language proficiency before registration of a doctor that is applying to them and we will be seeking that,’ Mr Dickson said.

Under EU legislation, the GMC would be able to do some language testing  if it had serious doubts about a doctor's language ability. However this would only occur in ‘fairly exceptional circumstances', Mr Dickson said.

In order to ensure that langauge testing is carried out, Mr Dickson said that the GMC was proposing to use responsible officers to carry out the testing.

The GMC will ‘put an obligation on them so they would have to be assured of the language of any doctor they take on and ensure they are competent,’ Mr Dickson said.  

However he added: ‘We still think the best way would be routine language testing (carried out by the GMC).’

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