Alarmed by the criticism of health professionals and their unions that the EU Mutual Recognition of Professional Qualifications (MRPQ) Directive 2005 allows EU health professionals to join Britain’s professional registers without a test for language competency, the NHS employers’ confederation produced “Language competency: good practice guidance for employers” in February 2012.
But the document has, if anything, underlined that alarm. It underlines the different position of non EU v EU nationals: “Individuals who have trained and qualified outside the EEA [European Economic Area] must satisfy Britain’s regulatory bodies of their knowledge of English.” In contrast EEA professionals: “are exempt from any routine assessment for language competency before registration”. In any other employment context this would be deemed as discriminatory. It certainly discriminates against patient safety.
It gets worse. In response to union and patient organisation concerns, government in recent weeks has stressed that employers can “test” for language competency. However this “good practice” document rules out routine testing: “employers must not systematically test all applicants from the EEA. For example, making all applicants sit the same test, even though they may be able to demonstrate their competence in other ways, is not permitted”. Again, in other contexts this advice would be deemed discriminatory.
One good thing that could have emerged from this good practice guide would be to alert employers that the EU directive is up for re-negotiation. But the fact that the EU commission is currently conducting a review is cunningly disguised in a microscopic footnote on page 3 of the guidance! The professional and patient demand is simple and clear: no health professional should join the register without the public being assured of their language competency. ■