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Lack Of Checks On Overseas Nurses ‘Putting Safety At Risk’

Posted: 22/02/2017

A health industry watchdog has called on MPs to use the Brexit negotiations to close loopholes in regulation to ensure more stringent checks on nurses coming into the UK from EU nations. The concern has been raised that failings in this regard at the moment are putting public safety at risk, simply because the NHS isn’t allowed to carry out checks.

The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) submitted a statement to the Commons Health Committee, saying that watchdogs have to automatically register midwives and nurses coming in from Europe as being safe to work even if they’ve not practised for decades, the Daily Telegraph reports.

Figures show that between 2015 and 2016, some 9,388 nurses and midwives registered to work in the UK from EU nations, compared to the 3,137 who registered in 2011/12. It’s thought that over 38,000 such professionals currently working in the UK were trained elsewhere in Europe.

At the moment, competence tests – which include practical exams – are only carried out if members of staff coming to the UK are coming from nations outside the EU. The watchdog is now calling on ministers to use Brexit as a good opportunity to address the perceived safety risks and make sure that, wherever nurses come from, their skills can be put to the test.

“Under the conditions of automatic recognition enshrined in the Directive, we are required to recognise a nurse or midwife’s qualification even if they have been out of practice for a significant length of time. We believe that this poses a public protection risk,” the organisation wrote to MPs.

The NHS is currently facing serious staff shortages so it’s increasingly likely that trusts will look to foreign countries for recruitment in-order to bolster the numbers. The Royal College of Nursing, for example, says that England is short of at least 20,000 nurses, while the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) says we need 3,500 more midwives, according to a report in the BBC.

Director of Research and Economics at the Health Foundation Anita Charlesworth told the paper that the problem isn’t that there aren’t enough bright people looking to have a career in medicine or nursing, it’s more that there just aren’t enough places for them. And being able to recruit from overseas has meant that successive staff shortages have been resolved in a “get out of jail card” kind of way.

Late last year, however, the government announced plans to increase the number of places in medical school by 25 per cent from next year, in a bid to make the country more self-sufficient when it comes to training doctors – so it may well be that we see fewer medical professionals coming to the UK from overseas.

It’ll certainly be interesting to see if the government does follow up with the NMC’s suggestion of using Brexit as a jumping off point for improving safety checks on nurses. We’ll watch this space.

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