Update of EU recognition rules for health professionals enters final stage

European union concept, digital illustration.In the near future it might become easier and faster for EEA doctors and nurses wishing to work in another EEA country to have their qualifications recognized. On 19 December 2011 the European Commission published a legislative proposal to modernize the Professional Qualifications Directive (2005/36/EC) through the use of online systems in recognition procedures and to respond to the estimated shrinkage of the working age population by 6 million persons – 1 million for health professionals – by 2020, while the demand for highly qualified workers is increasing.

The main novelty in the 65-page Commission proposal is arguably the introduction of a “European Professional Card” (EPC). The EPC is designed as an electronic certificate (no physical card), which is issued upon the professional’s request by the competent authority in his home country, and which may be accessed by the authority in the country of destination in order to verify that the conditions for recognition are fulfilled. The respective professions need to express their interest in using such a card to the Commission; for example nurses did that already.

For specialist doctors wishing to obtain additional specialist qualifications in another EU country the Commission proposal allows the recognition by Member States of applicable parts of the original specialty training in order to avoid unnecessary duplicate training.

To safeguard patient safety the Commission furthermore proposes to allow competent authorities in the country of destination to demand the passing of language tests before granting the licence to practice and the introduction of a mandatory alert system between Member State authorities in case a doctor or nurse has been banned from practicing. The latter is a response to several recent cases reported for example from Germany and Finland, where foreign doctors were admitted to practice without valid degrees or in spite of prohibition to work in their home country.

Other proposed changes of interest concern the extension of the recognition to graduated paid trainees and the update of minimum training requirements.

The Commission proposal is currently under negotiation between the European Parliament and the Council. Based on the feedback received so far – most recently from the report by the Parliament’s Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee (IMCO) adopted on 23 January 2013 – it can be expected that the main elements of the Commission proposal will be agreed.  Adoption of the updated Directive is currently forecasted for the second half of 2013. It then needs to be implemented in the Member States within two years.

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