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EU directive could open door for GPs to practise in UK without registering with GMC

An overhaul of EU directives could put patient safety at risk by opening the door for European doctors to practise in the UK without registering with the GMC, the regulator has warned.

Under plans designed to boost the freedom of movement of doctors, dentists and vets between EU states, doctors will be given ‘tacit consent’ to practise in the UK if the GMC does not process their application within two weeks of it being lodged.

The GMC said it would ‘push hard’ to overturn the proposed change to the EU’s Professional Qualifications Directive, with the regulator fearing the move could see patients harmed if non-GMC registered doctors are allowed to practise.

The GMC said the presence of the ‘tacit authorisation’ clause was ‘a significant concern’, given that the two week timescale applies even if a doctor has failed to provide suitable documentation or information to support their application. Doctors who receive ‘tacit authorisation’ would not have a GMC number but could set up as private GPs with patients having ‘no redress’ if they came to harm, the regulator said.

Under the new proposals a doctor wishing to work in the UK would apply to their regulator or ‘competent authority’ in their own country,which would then forward an application to the GMC. The GMC said if the plans are forced through, it would reject any applications that there was ‘any doubt’ over within the two weeks so as to protect patients.

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the GMC, said:‘If someone was moving to be a taxi driver from one area to another, than that may be reasonable. But in the case of doctors we do not believe it is acceptable because an authority has not responded within a very tight timetable to the application, that the doctor should then be able to start practising.

‘That is the implication of the proposals as they are currently drawn up. Apart from anything else patients in the UK would have no redress were they treated or harmed by doctors who weren’t registered by the GMC. And of course, these people would not have been registered by us but would be practising in this country. We will push hard to see that that doesn’t happen.’

The introduction of ‘tacit authorisation’ for doctors is one of a raft of changes being proposed to the EU’s Professional Qualifications Directive, as the European Commission seeks to stimulate movement of professionals across member states. The GMC said that the European Commission wants to approve a revised directive by December of this year with the proposals likely to come into force a year later.