On 24th September 2016, the Daily Mail headlined with the following:
This follows on from a number of previous articles published earlier in the year by the paper concerning doctors in the NHS who come from other EU countries.
Whilst the paper has never been overly fastidious with the truth, this arrangement of falsehoods and scare-mongering is not only irresponsible but immeasurably dangerous to the National Health Service.
As a doctor who works in the NHS, I fear to imagine how we would manage if my colleagues from Ireland, Italy, Greece, Poland or Spain left their jobs as consultants, clinical fellows, registrars or house officers. It would certainly expand the existing staffing voids to breaking-point. The straightforward issue of workforce numbers aside, we would also lose the countless continental talent who contribute so much to our hospitals and research.
I wonder if Sophie Borland, the Health Correspondent for the Daily Mail, could visit hospital for a few days and witness first-hand the contribution of the 10% registered doctors and 4% registered nurses from other EU countries working in the NHS.
But what of the central premise of the Daily Mail's campaign, that EU doctors work in the UK without safety checks and constitute a risk to the public? The Daily Mail quoted the head of the UK's General Medical Council, Niall Dickson:
"Some European doctors - because we haven't checked their competency - may struggle when they practise here and that could put patients at risk. We are able to assess their language skills but we cannot check their competency to practise. That's just a reality."
The article curiously missed out the following from the GMC: "UK patients are more protected than they used to be and the European Commission deserves credit for bringing in the fitness to practise alert mechanism, which allows regulators across Europe to share concerns about the fitness of practise of health professionals, and for giving the UK and regulators in the rest of Europe the power to require health professionals to demonstrate their ability to speak the language of their patients before granting them entry to practice."
The GMC goes on to say "it is important to remember that employers also have a responsibility to carry out thorough pre-employment checks and make sure that the doctor is qualified and competent to carry out the duties they are being given, including having the right language skills for their particular role."
This states the obvious: that the obligation lies with the employer for ensuring a rigorous application and interview process and then monitoring a doctor's practice, and this should be the same whether the doctor is from the UK, Europe or the rest of the world.
However, the obvious can be ignored when a vendetta is being waged, and so the Daily Mail not only overlooks this but contraindicates itself by publishing the GMC figures:
"GMC figures for 2011 to 2015 show that just 0.55 per cent of doctors who qualified in the UK were struck off, suspended or given a warning. This compares with 1.01 per cent from the EU and 1.1 per cent from elsewhere in the world", In summary, there was more action against non-EU doctors than EU doctors (and still a small proportion).
In a riposte to the Mail, the European Commission states in its article at blogs.ec.europa.eu: "It is out of the question that EU rules would require the UK to let linguistically or medically incompetent doctors practise. In fact, the rules - recently further reinforced in agreement with the UK - expressly require Member States to prevent such people from being employed"
This headline brings two negative consequences - firstly, patients become needlessly worried about EU doctors, which may lead to delays in seeking appropriate and timely care. Secondly, an incorrect stigma is fostered against a large group of doctors and nurses. Since Britain voted to leave the European Union, there has already been a marked reduction in applications from EU healthcare staff to work in the NHS. If those who come here from Europe and work to save lives and cure illnesses feel that they are no longer welcome and leave, then patients will really be at risk.