Daily Mail Newspaper
- July 2010
A whistleblower conatcted us after becoming concerned that EU nurses working in Britain would no longer require the same checks as their UK counterparts.
The story appeared in the media and measures are now being taken to help overcome the problem.
Tests on foreign nurses scrapped: EU order means Britain must open NHS jobs to thousands from Eastern Europe
DAILY MAIL NEWSPAPER
Thousands of foreign nurses will be allowed to work in Britain without any safety checks – because EU rules demand that the tests are axed.
They will not need to sit rigorous competence exams before treating NHS patients. And they will no longer even be required to show they have looked after patients in the past three years.
Critics say the change will 'almost certainly' lead to lives being lost. The Nursing and Midwifery Council will stop administering the tests in the autumn after being told it could be sued by the European Commission for breaking EU law on 'freedom of movement' for workers from the Continent.
The test will still apply to non EU applicants. Under the current system, nurses from EU states wanting to work in hospitals, surgeries or care homes in Britain have to prove their clinical skills are up to standard.
Either they have to show they have carried out a minimum of 450 hours' nursing in their own country in the past three years or they must attend an intensive three month course with regular tests on their knowledge and skills.
In the past five years more than 40,000 nurses from the European Union – including former Soviet Bloc countries such as Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia - applied to work in Britain.
But just 270 completed the course, deterred by its cost and difficulty. Now the Nursing and Midwifery Council, which regulates nurses, has been forced to scrap both requirements because they are deemed to be 'discriminatory' towards workers from EU member states.
Although other EU countries are in theory bound by the same rules, major Western countries including France and Germany opted out of regulations which opened their borders to most Eastern European immigrants.
The changes will make the system almost identical to that in place for GPs coming from European countries, which allows them to cover out- of-hours shifts without tests on their skills or language abilities.
The lack of regulation - which has been branded ' disastrous' - was exposed two years ago when retired engineer David Gray died at the hands of exhausted German locum Daniel Ubani, who gave him ten times the normal dose of diamorphine.
Thousands of nurses are likely to take advantage of the rule change to work in the NHS or for agencies. Already around 2,000 nurses and midwives from EU countries come to Britain to work every year.
Those who can't prove their recent nursing experience have to undergo the same tests as British nurses who are returning to work after more than three years. Although nurses from the EU are not tested on their English, it is unlikely they would pass the tests if their language skills were poor.
By contrast nurses from other countries in the world face far stricter checks and must score seven points out of a possible nine in a compulsory English test. Last night David Gray's son Rory, who is campaigning for tougher checks on overseas doctors following his father's death, said: 'This is terrible.
I cannot believe the EU are doing this - people are going to die. 'We are working with the General Medical Council trying to get the law changed to avoid yet more deaths and all the while the rules are being relaxed for overseas nurses.'
Katherine Murphy, of the Patients' Association, said: 'We saw with the Ubani case that this system is completely unacceptable and applaud the NMC for having ignored it for so long.
'They clearly saw they needed to put these additional checks in place to make sure they fulfilled their duties to protect patients. It is outrageous that European law is forcing them to change their procedures.'
Concerns have already been raised over the competence of foreign nurses in Britain. Earlier this year the Daily Mail revealed how Oxford Radcliffe NHS trust, had been forced to send nurses on English language courses because they couldn't understand basic medical phrases such as 'nil by mouth'.
The NMC said it was 'with some reluctance' that it scrapped the requirements, but it feared being sued by a nurse from an EU country or facing a fine from Brussels.