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EU Directive puts patients at huge risk, say Health Regulators

The regulators of the five key health professions have today (12th November) called on the Tanaiste to halt a European directive that could, they maintain, put patients in Ireland at risk.
In an unprecedented move, the regulators (Medical Council, An Bord Altranais, The Dental Council, The Opticians Board and the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland) held a joint press conference to call on the Tanaiste to force an amendment to the draft proposals on the 'Recognition of Professional Qualifications'. The proposals will, according to the Regulators, allow health practitioners to practise in Ireland without any registration and therefore without any regulation for a period up to sixteen weeks in any one year. The Council of Ministers, including the Tanaiste, will meet this Thursday to advance the draft proposals that could become law within the next two months.

'If these proposals go ahead, it will allow doctors, nurses, dentists, pharmacists and other health professionals to practise in Ireland without registering,' said Professor Gerard Bury, President of the Medical Council. 'That means that a health professional struck off the register in another member state could arrive here and work for up to sixteen weeks without ever coming to the attention of the Irish Regulators'.

He went on to confirm the danger this could present to the Irish public. 'It means that if someone is mistreated by an unregistered health professional, they'd have no recourse to the Irish authorities. We would have no record of their presence and no ability to track them down. Similarly we would never find out if a medical professional found incompetent in another European country was working here. We would have no way to protect our patients and clients.'

The regulatory bodies were informed last week that the European Union is pressing ahead with plans to implement the proposals notwithstanding considerable opposition across Europe. The new proposals will allow professionals to practise without registration for up to sixteen weeks annually in another Member State. If the proposals become law, patients will have no assurance that those providing a health service are qualified (registered) professionals. Patients will not be able to pursue a complaint in Ireland against a service provider from another country, who is not registered in Ireland. Also, there will be no means to prevent a professional found guilty of professional misconduct or poor performance or unfit for health reasons in one Member State from practising in another Member State.

The regulatory bodies were at pains to make clear that the issue is not one of freedom of movement. It is, they say, an issue of public safety.

'We welcome any qualified professionals who can work in Ireland. The issue is that they be qualified. We cannot afford to have people practising in the Irish
Healthcare system when we cannot independently confirm that they are actually medical practitioners. It's unacceptably dangerous,' said Professor Bury.

In addition, if the proposals are accepted, Irish Regulatory Bodies could be required to recognise lesser qualifications for registration from applicants from other Member States than those required from Irish nationals. Although compensation systems are proposed, the Regulatory Bodies believe that the introduction of the new proposals will allow people of lower professional competence to work in the health services in Ireland.

According to the regulators, the proposals wilfully disregard Article 152 of The Treaty of Rome, which provides that a high level of human health protection shall be enshrined in all Community policies. They believe the Tanaiste in her role as Minister for Consumer Affairs, can prevent these proposals being accepted to protect the Irish healthcare consumer. They are calling on the Tanaiste to ensure that public and consumer protection is enshrined in any new proposal to reform the Directives for the Recognition of Qualifications.

Ann McGee of The Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland highlighted the importance of the Tanaiste's task.'The health regulators will not be able to provide guarantees to the Irish public in relation to health professionals practising in Ireland. And without those guarantees, we can't ensure patient safety. We rely on the Tanaiste to get this legislation changed.'

For further information contact;
Ann McGee, Registrar and Secretary, The Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland (01) 283 7294
Professor Gerard Bury, President, Medical Council (01) 4983100
Anton Savage, Carr Communications (01) 278 5000
Dominique Ellickson, Carr Communications(01) 2785000 / (087) 2676877
Anton Savage, Carr Communications (01) 278 5000