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New EU rules for health professionals crossing borders

A revised EU directive on the mutual recognition of professional qualifications, which was agreed at European Level at the end of 2013, came into force in member states on 18 January 2016. EU law provides for holders of specified qualifications in professions such as medicine and nursing to practise in EU countries other than those in which they qualify.

RCP lobbying

From 2009, the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) played an active role in influencing discussions on the new directive. We highlighted both the benefits of mobility and patient safety concerns, hosted roundtable meetings with stakeholders such as the European Public Health Alliance, EU Commission officials and MEPs in both Brussels and London; responded to various EU and UK government consultations; as well as lobbying policy-makers directly at critical points in the EU legislative process.


The revised directive tightens EU rules in a number of key areas including:

  • Introducing an EU warning system to protect patients and alert regulators to doctors who are not fit to practice
  • Strengthened language requirements
  • Providing a new requirement for all countries to encourage CPD

Future vigilance

Although the revised directive’s political passage through the EU institutions concluded in Brussels in 2013, RCP London and UK partners including the NHS European Office and General Medical Council (GMC) remain vigilant to future developments regarding the directive’s implementation. One issue in particular is the potential use of European Commission powers to recognise training curricula via a new legal tool to achieve automatic professional qualification recognition. These so-called ‘Common Training Frameworks’ (CTFs) can be proposed by professional bodies that are considered to be ‘representative’ at European level (such as the European Union of Medical Specialists*) according to Article 49 of the EU directive.

CTFs are different from the many voluntary (non-EU binding) training curricula developed by medical and other professional bodies at European level to help raise national standards. This is because they could, potentially, be enshrined in EU law and their recognition by competent authorities made mandatory for the purpose of facilitating the free movement of professionals across EU borders.

The General Medical Council and the European Network of Medical Competent Authorities (ENMCA) have voiced concerns about extending such provisions to the medical sector where patient safety is paramount. The ENMCA position statement notes that competent authorities could be required to recognise CTFs without having sufficient regulatory oversight and with inadequate provisions built into the process for the timely updating of curricula. This month, RCP wrote to the Department of Health in support of the GMC submission to a UK government consultation on implementation of the directive that highlights CTFs among other concerns. RCP representatives are also raising the issues with UEMS and its UK national member organisation, the British Medical Association.

*The European Union of Medical Specialists (Union Européenne des Médecins Spécialistes – UEMS) is a non-governmental organisation (not an EU body) that is composed of national medical associations from 37 European countries.

For a review of the directive, read the Clinical Medicine article ‘Medical migration within Europe: opportunities and challenges’