On 23 June 2016 the British electorate voted to leave the European Union. In the immediate days following this decision, the Leave camp had not yet published a plan of action to manage the country’s exit. Representatives of the Leave campaign have stated that they are in no rush to invoke article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon. The article which provides that the UK would have to give two years’ notice of its intention to leave the EU, during which the terms of exit would be negotiated. At the end of that period, unless a different date were agreed, the UK would cease to be part of the EU.
EU Member States have a long history of movement of health professionals between their country and the UK. The shape of the UK’s future relationship with the EU will have consequences for Competent Authorities for health professionals.
In this briefing I look at the consequences of the referendum for Competent Authorities and health professionals.
As explained above, the United Kingdom remains a full member of the European Union and as such continues to abide by EU legislation, including on the recognition of professional qualifications. It is difficult to forecast for how long this situation will last but my educated guess is that this status quo will remain for 5+ year at least. My reasoning is as follows:
Until the UK has struck a deal with the EU, all laws will remain in place. This will be the case at least until 2019, with Leave leaders in no rush to invoke article 50 – at which time they will have 2 years to formally leave the EU. My analysis of the situation leads me to think that at the end of this period, for practical reasons, the United Kingdom will incorporate the body of EU legislation into its own laws. The aim of this strategy is to buy time and to review each and every piece of legislation as and when it is deemed necessary by the British legislator. If the UK embarks on a revision of this huge body of laws, it will have to prioritise policy sectors. Freedom of movement of professionals will be high on the agenda but negotiations will be tough as both France and Germany are adamant that access to the EU single market (which the UK will seek) is conditional to the freedom of movement of citizen.
Subscribe to our weekly EU Health newsletter here
EU health professionals moving to the UK
My assumption is that the United Kingdom will remain part of the single market. I believe that freedom of movement will continue to be guaranteed – a desire stated by prominent UK “Leave” politicians. The end result will probably be a treaty of association with the EU which will resemble the EEA relationship, with maybe some more freedom on such matters as finance and trade. In this case EU health professionals will continue to be allowed to move and establish themselves in the UK.
If, however, the UK leaves the single market the situation would be different. EU health professionals will technically not be guaranteed automatic recognition of their qualifications anymore. They would have to enter through the “overseas” procedure of UK regulators. This means that they will not benefit from the European Professional Card, be submitted to the Alert Mechanism or given the possibility to provide temporary and occasional services in the UK.
If the UK opts for a restrictive immigration policy, EU health professionals wishing to work in the UK will have to apply for working visas. This may prove easier to obtain for some professionals such as nurses that are listed in the UK “shortage occupation list” and as such will be given preferential access to the UK labour market.
British health professionals moving to the EU
The same considerations as stated above will apply to British health professionals wishing to establish themselves in a EU Member State.
If the UK remains part of the single market, the status quo will remain. British health professionals will continue to have the right to have their qualifications recognised in the EU.
If, however, the UK leaves the single market, then they will lose their right to recognition under the Qualifications Directive. In this case competent authorities in EU Member States will have to review their registration processes and decide how to deal with applicants from the UK;
British health professionals who have trained before the official UK “leave” date (circa 2019) will technically hold an EU/EEA qualification. It may be practical for the EU competent authorities to continue to recognise the qualifications of these British applicants through the “usual” procedure. In the future adjustments will have to made for the British health professionals who have completed their training after the UK officially left the EU.
Individual Member States will have to decide on the immigration status of UK health professionals which means that they may need to apply for a working visa.
British health professionals already in the EU and EU health professionals already in the UK
The status of those professionals who have already had their qualifications recognised under the Qualifications Directive is difficult to predict. In the event that the UK an the EU agree to continue to share the single market there shouldn’t be any change.
Some UK competent authorities such as the Nursing and Midwifery Council have stated that “there will be no immediate impact on either the registration status of EU nurses already on our register”. Whereas I cannot see that they would lose their authorisation to practise (a regulatory concern) they may lose their automatic right to work from an immigration perspective. As explained above, I believe that the UK will ultimately remain in the single market. However, the Referendum was won by the Leave campaign in big part because of their promise to significantly reduce immigration to the UK. We will therefore have to wait and see how the negotiations develop.