EU Sub-Committee G is one of the seven sub-committees of the House of Lords European Union Select Committee. It scrutinises EU proposals on social policy and consumer protection. The latest directive to come under its microscope is the Mutual Recognition of Professional Qualifications Directive, which has captured media attention following the Dr Ubani case and on which we have commented on in previous updates. Officials from the European Commission have admitted that the current directive, one of whose aims is for all member states to recognise each other’s healthcare qualifications and simplify the movement of clinicians across countries, is imperfect and needs reform.

The Lords requested evidence from an extensive range of healthcare regulators and professionals, including the General Dental Council (GDC), the General Medical Council, Jonathan Faull (EC Director General of the internal market and services) and most recently Anne Milton MP (Public Health Minister). When giving evidence Mr Faull suggested the current system offers numerous benefits, in particular helping some member states tackle staff shortages. Mr Faull did however admit the present system had its problems, suggesting, “We need a failsafe system for immediate alerts to be sent around countries when a doctor loses the license to practice in his or her home country” which would prevent such doctors simply moving to another EU country, under the directive, and carrying on working.

Written evidence given by the GDC highlighted the risks within the dental profession of the current directive. The GDC says the automatic recognition regime and the limitations on language testing could result in an individual being registered with the GDC who does not have the appropriate clinical or language skills, in turn creating a risk to the safety of patients. Further, the GDC’s compliance with the directive limits its ability to test either the clinical competence or the language ability of European Economic Area dentists applying to join the GDC register and instead they are forced to rely on the systems within each member state to guarantee the quality of dental education.

A major concern, and certainly one that requires the Lords’ consideration, is the question of whether the European Commission is placing a higher importance on free movement than on patient safety. When questioned on this issue, Mr Faull said “We are certainly not doing that. We want to combine the considerable benefits of free movement with full confidence in healthcare professionals.”

The evidence given by Public Health Minister, Anne Milton, on 14 July 2011 was the last evidence session of the House of Lords Social Policies and Consumer Protection inquiry into the mobility of healthcare professionals. The Lords are now in recess until 5 September 2011 but all the evidence collated thus far can be found on their website.