European Qualifications (Health and Social Care Professions) (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2018 - Motion to Approve

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:45 pm on 7th March 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Thornton Baroness Thornton Shadow Spokesperson (Health) 12:45 pm, 7th March 2019

My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing this instrument with such clarity. The reason I have tabled an amendment to the Motion is to draw attention to the serious concerns that were expressed by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee in its report in December last year. As the Minister has explained, these draft regulations laid by the Department of Health and Social Care set out the Government’s plans for recognition of EEA and Swiss professional healthcare qualifications in the event of no deal. Yet again we are spending valuable parliamentary time talking through quite large regulations that would not need to be here if the Government had ruled out no deal, to be frank. Here we go again. They need the scrutiny of your Lordships’ House because the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee drew them to our attention, because of issues of public policy that we need to address.

The Government have said that they would not introduce new public policy issues into these orders and Brexit legislation, so we need to ask whether these regulations raise any of those issues. My questions will be focused on the issues that the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee raised in its report.

The first question is about the regulators’ decision-making. The committee asked the DHSC how the UK regulators would make decisions. It was concerned about whether the regulators could set their own criteria for designation and the DHSC confirmed in its response to that question:

“Health and Care regulators are best placed to assess qualifications. Privy Council scrutiny ensures continuity for applicants in the short term whilst providing an inbuilt safety mechanism for removing qualifications that require further testing. The overarching principle behind the designation is the safety of the public—and we will work with regulators to ensure this”.

The question that the Minister needs to address is about ensuring a consistent and fair approach to the decisions by the different regulators, because each regulator will be responsible for the criteria for designation in its area.

That begs the question of how much work is involved and how much extra burden this will put on our regulators, given that the regulations give the UK regulators a discretion to designate EEA and Swiss qualifications as not acceptable in the UK after exit from the EU. The Minister needs to respond on what criteria regulators will apply in designating a qualification as not comparable to UK standards and what steps will be taken to ensure that regulators maintain a consistent and fair approach to their application. I welcome the clarification that there will be no change to the language testing arrangements, because your Lordships’ House has been concerned about that for many years.

The Minister needs to address what the administrative burden on regulators might be. No information on cost or impact is given in the Explanatory Memorandum other than to say that they will be negligible—I try to avoid that word—which seems unlikely. Given that this function requires assessment of where a qualification is not comparable and may impose an additional burden on UK regulators, we need to ask the Minister for assurances that UK regulators will have the administrative capacity and resources to deal with such decisions.

The Minister has addressed temporary and occasional qualifications, but given the number of EEA and Swiss professionals providing healthcare services in the UK on a temporary and occasional basis, she should assure us that there will be no detrimental effect on the NHS as a result of the removal of the right of EEA and Swiss professionals to work on such a basis.

I think that is enough questions for the time being. Other noble Lords will probably draw to the attention of the Minister the views that have been expressed to us by a range of organisations which have an interest in this matter, including the BMA and the royal colleges. I beg to move.