My Lords, the Government recognise the important contribution made by regulated health and care professionals, including those trained in the EEA and Switzerland. This statutory instrument ensures that professionals with EEA or Swiss qualifications have a clear route to seek recognition of their qualification when the UK leaves the EU.
Following the UK’s exit from the EU, directive and treaty rights under the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union will no longer apply to the UK in the event of no deal, save to the extent that they have been introduced by UK domestic legislation. Parts of domestic legislation implementing the directive will not operate effectively after exit day and there would be no clearly lawful route for holders of EEA and Swiss health and care qualifications to be registered to practise in the UK. This instrument amends professional legislation in the UK to ensure that a system for the recognition of professional qualifications continues and that professionals with EEA and Swiss qualifications will have a clear and lawful route to seek recognition of their qualifications after exit day.
Arrangements for the recognition of professional qualifications within the EU are provided for by the directive on the recognition of professional qualifications. If UK domestic legislation is not amended, many of the directive’s provisions will still be part of UK law after exit day. However, they will not function properly and in some cases will be inoperable. For example, regulators may lose the ability to recognise certain EEA and Swiss qualifications. This would mean, as I have said, that health and care professionals who want to work in the UK will not be able to do so. Changes to domestic legislation, which implements the directive, are therefore needed to ensure that recognition of EEA and Swiss qualifications can continue in the unlikely event of a no-deal exit.
The UK has been a major beneficiary of the arrangements that European directives have put in place on this matter. Since 1997, more than 77,000 EEA and Swiss qualifications in the automatic professions of doctors, nurses, midwives, dentists and pharmacists have been recognised in the UK. By contrast, fewer than 7,000 UK qualifications have been recognised in the EEA and Switzerland. Directives have supported the recruitment of skilled professionals to the UK’s health and care sector, so it is important that arrangements are in place to allow for the continued registration of such professionals if the UK leaves the EU in a no-deal scenario.
This instrument deals with the recognition of EEA and Swiss professional qualifications in the UK. It has three main effects. First, it puts in place arrangements for the recognition of EEA and Swiss professional qualifications that are currently automatically recognised. Secondly, it ensures that applications for recognition that are ongoing at exit day can be completed under the current legal arrangements, as far as practically possible. Finally, it removes provisions that are not possible or desirable to maintain in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
I will take some time to set out exactly what the instrument does. It puts in place new arrangements for the recognition of EEA and Swiss professional qualifications that are currently automatically recognised by UK regulators. Such qualifications will become acceptable overseas qualifications. These qualifications will continue to be recognised without additional testing, other than checks on language skills and where there are concerns about applicants’ fitness to be registered. The regulations give UK regulators a new power to stop the automatic recognition of a qualification by seeking designation of that qualification if so desired. This is not currently possible under the directive, and this important additional measure will enhance public protection. Such a designation will be subject to Privy Council consent.
The Government have been asked whether they will set out in guidance the criteria to be applied by regulators when seeking designation of a qualification. We do not intend to do so. UK health and care professional regulators currently set the standards for UK qualifications. In our view, therefore, they are best placed to identify whether there is a case for designating a qualification as not comparable to these standards on the grounds of public safety. UK regulators will be able to seek designation of any qualification that is currently automatically accepted but about which they have concerns. It will be the responsibility of the regulators to present the evidence in support of designation. The most likely basis for designation will be that a qualification does not meet the standard of the equivalent UK professional qualification. The arrangements for the continued recognition of automatic qualifications will be reviewed by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care two years after these regulations come into force.
These regulations also enable qualifications that are not currently covered by the automatic system to be considered by the relevant UK regulator and compared with the equivalent UK standard, as is currently the case. The regulations enable applications which have been made before exit day to be concluded under the current arrangements, as far as practically possible. This instrument also enables individuals practising under temporary and occasional status, or under the European professional card, to continue to do so until such registration expires.
Concerns have been expressed that the removal of temporary and occasional registration will have a detrimental impact on the number of EEA or Swiss-trained healthcare professionals practising in the UK, but we do not think that that is a genuine problem. Just 160 professionals are registered on a temporary and occasional basis. Professionals practising on such a basis will not lose their registration on exit day; they will instead be able to practise until their registration expires, which may be for up to 18 months. At that point they will be able to seek full registration in the same way as any other holder of an EEA or Swiss qualification.
Finally, this order removes obligations and administrative arrangements that will no longer apply to the UK regulators, operate effectively or be desirable to maintain when the UK leaves the EU. These include: the removal of the requirement to share information through the European Commission’s internal market information system, IMI, to which UK regulators would no longer have access; the ending of arrangements that allow professionals to practise in the UK using an EPC, which relies on having access to IMI; and the removal of the requirement on UK regulators to set professional education and training standards that comply with standards set in the directive. This provides UK regulators with greater flexibility to set education and training standards that meet the needs of the health and care sector in the UK.
These regulations put in place a system for the recognition of EEA and Swiss professional qualifications if the UK exits the EU without a deal. It also ensures that those applications that are in process on exit day will be concluded under the current arrangements, as far as practically possible. On that basis, I beg to move.