Vicky Ford MEP

Member of the European Parliament for the East of England

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08 NOV 2016

Speech for the CHPCB Conference - "Healthcare mobility across borders - trends and expectations"

 

CHPCB Conference – promoting patient safety across borders

Friday 28 October 2016

30 Euston Square

London, NW1 2FB

 

"Healthcare mobility across borders – trends and expectations"

Thank you very much for inviting me to speak at this conference. Welcome to London. It is good to see so many experts from across Europe gathering together to talk about the future of healthcare.

Also, thank you very much to the General Medical Council, the doctor's regulator in the UK for bringing us all together.

I would like to talk a little about the work of the Internal Market & Consumer Protection committtee in the Parliament and, because we are in the UK, a bit about what I hope a relationship between the UK and Europe might look like post Brexit.

I do have to declare a bit of a conflict of interest as there are many medics in my own family. I however am NOT a doctor, am not an expert but and sits in the patients chair. Thank you for putting patient safety as the topic for conversation.

The Internal Market Committee in the European Parliament works to break down barriers to trade both of goods and services. The mutual recognition of professional qualifications makes it easier for talented people to go and live and work in other European countries should they wish to. More than one in ten of the doctors working in the UK today were trained elsewhere in the EU, that is over 30,000 exceptionally talented, well-trained, hard-working individuals. There are over 100,000 others from across the EU working in UK hospitals and care homes. The health of Great Britain is greatly enhanced by the mobility of healthcare professionals.

IMCO is also the committee responsible for consumer protection. And in the world of healthcare, the consumer protection in my view translates to patient safety.

When I first arrived in the European Parliament seven years ago there was a particularly tragic death in my own region, where one doctor's actions led to a huge amount of public concern about the mutual recognition system and to a drop in public confidence in non-UK trained doctors. This has been mended. It was very good to work with the GMC and with my Conservative MEP colleagues to review and amend the mutual recognition directive, to introduce testing for language skills, and alert mechanism and the means for regulators across Europe to exchange information.

Internal Market Information system (IMI)

The Internal Market Information sharing system enables the UK's General Medical Council to easily verify the qualifications of doctors from other countries, and check whether they have ever been barred.

As of the end of September, the UK had sent 1194 outgoing alerts and received just over 500 from the 27 other EU member states. UK healthcare regulators are the largest sharer of information on this system. I am told that this is due to the regulatory system in the UK, and the Commission agrees that the UK is using the alert mechanism correctly.

We should look at why is there a significant variance in this system in different Member States and have a strategy for improving the performance in those where stakeholders are less satisfied.

However, the IMI system IS helping deliver patient safety in the UK and we should look for ways to keep cooperating with it post Brexit.

Rapex

Also important for the patient safety is the European Rapid Alert System for Dangerous Products, also known as Rapex. If a dangerous product is spotted in one market, this system is used to alert trading standards officials all across Europe so that recalls can be made across the supply chain. This also applies to pharmaceuticals and medical devices.

Those involved in researching and developing new devices and medicines also tell me how the single approval system via the EMA helps patients since it enables them to bring new treatments to market faster.

I hope we will be able to find a way to maintain this type of cooperation post Brexit and very close relationship with the EMA.

British patients also benefit from being able to take part in cross border clinical trials across Europe. I know that a strong case is made for keeping this by patient organisations. This will require close cooperation on regulatory matters going forward.

Of course, the Single Market is continually evolving as innovation continues.

This January saw the introduction of the first Professional Card

The European professional card (EPC) is applicable in all EU countries since January 2016. It is issued in the form of an electronic certificate and it facilitates temporary mobility and simplifies both the general and the automatic recognition system.

Within the medical-related professions, the first wave of implementation was for nurses in general care, physiotherapists and pharmacists. So far, over 500 EPCs have been issued to 1,500 professionals

I know there are concerns about the introduction of the European professional card (EPC) for doctors. For example it is important that the host country regulator remains responsible for oversight of activities in their own area. MEPs were able to raise these questions directly with the commission civil servants managing the system at a public scrutiny session in the parliament this time last year. I believe there must be a proper evaluation of the first phase roll out of the card before any extension.

There are huge benefits to enabling the movement of health professionals, but there are also challenges.

In Warsaw last week, the Deputy Prime Ministers of two large Eastern European countries told me about the issues in their own health services from the high level of professionals choosing to leave and come to Britain. When we are looking at a new relationship with the EU I believe it is important that we try to address not only our domestic concerns but those of other countries too.

Here, Theresa May the Prime Minister has announced a 25 per cent increase in the number of medical student training places in England, from 6,000 to up to 7,500, I hope that this will help not only our health service but those in other countries too.

There will be an obligation that the students who benefit from a taxpayer subsidy for their medical studies, work in the NHS for at least four years after leaving university. Because many of those trained here chose to take up jobs in other countries too - .

Training new doctors takes time, and it is of course extremely important that there is not a lowering of training standards.

We cannot afford to lose expertise from healthcare professionals coming from all over Europe with their skills and experience and I understand the deep anxiety among many of those from across Europe currently living and working in the UK. They need stability and long term certainty about their rights. I hope that you all will continue to press their case in your own countries and for the equivalent certainty to be given for UK citizens elsewhere in the EU.

Patients from all across Europe have benefitted from the expertise from healthcare professionals sharing their skills and experience. But that is not all mobility is important for students that they can study abroad and share knowledge. Patients also benefit directly from advances in science and research. Across Europe our researchers are able to co-operate easily, work with others and share ideas. The UK has world leading expertise in many areas of life sciences, in Cambridge of the 300,000 local jobs over 30,000 are in bio-technology. Very talented people who often could be located anywhere in the world. It is interesting that more and more countries outside the EU want to join in our collaborative research programs. For Example the US has just signed an agreement enabling American researchers to take part in Horizon 2020 projects. I believe it is very strongly in the interest of people all across Europe to maintain and nurture our world class research in the UK and across the EU and keep networks open for continued collaboration.

As an MEP I am working my hardest to ensure that the EU single market delivers for professionals and patients and I hope that if you will encourage politicians in your own countries to help deliver a new cooperative EU/ UK relationship that benefits professionals, facilitates research and delivers for patients.

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My Political Priorities

Economic Stability must come first. Without a strong economy we can not deliver a strong society. I work with businesses and consumers to keep Britain open for business, cutting red tape, boosting trade opportunities and helping to deliver jobs and growth for all.

I support Science and Research which is key to delivering better medical care and improved lifestyles for all our families.

Strong security is vital in today's uncertain world, which requires robust policing and defence and deep international relationships that we can depend on. I work with others to achieve this.

I care about the Countryside and the Environment and making sure that rural and urban communities flourish.