recognition of professional qualifications

Policy topic

Over several decades European rules on the mutual recognition of qualifications were introduced to allow qualified professionals to work in other European countries. These rules were eventually consolidated into the Professional Qualifications Directive 2005/36/EC which came into force in 2005.

The Directive establishes ‘the automatic recognition’ of certain healthcare professionals, including pharmacists, who are able to register to practice in other Member States without having to satisfy further tests. The Directive also defines a list of skills and knowledge that pharmacists must have acquired during their training and a list of activities pharmacists should be able to undertake.

In December 2011 the European Commission adopted proposals to amend the Directive and in October 2013 the European Parliament voted in favour of the Commission’s proposals. Member States now have two years to transpose the amended Directive into national law. The proposals aim to make it easier for professionals with the right qualifications work in another Member State while also reinforcing protection for consumers and patients.

The main elements of the amended Directive that affect pharmacists are:

Medical Professionals’ Language Skills - The amended Directive clarifies that regulators can check the language knowledge of healthcare professionals only after a host Member Statue has recognised their professional qualifications but they can intervene before a professional is able to access a profession. Language checks by a regulator will not replace language checks by employers.

Creation of an alert mechanism for health professionals - A new alert system will see relevant authorities in one Member State obliged to inform their counterparts a in other Member States when a professional is banned from practising, even temporarily, or if they have used falsified documents. Under the current Directive relevant authorities only have to react to requests for information.

The introduction of a European Professional Card - The card will be an electronic certificate intended to speed up recognition procedures. Professionals who want to work in another Member State on a temporary basis would be able to use the card to practice for 18 months without other administrative requirements. The card will be introduced on a profession by profession basis. So far the Pharmaceutical Group of the European Union (PGEU) and several national pharmacy organisations are supportive of the Professional Card while the GPhC has expressed reservations.

Modernisation of harmonised minimum training requirements - Under the amended Directive pharmacists still need five years training including training in a pharmacy for six months. The amended Directive also updates the skills, knowledge and competencies that a pharmacist should acquire during training.

Partial access to regulated professions.  This principal allows a professional who would only be partly trained in a profession in another Member State to practice in that Member State within the limited scope of their training. The partial access principle will not apply to pharmacists and other healthcare professionals.

Continuous Professional Development - Member States will have to ensure that pharmacists can update their knowledge, skills and competences through continuous professional development.

The Pharmaceutical Group of the European Union (PGEU) supports the Directive which it says has proved effective over the years.

During the development of the amended Directive the PGEU argued for changes to the list of skills and knowledge a pharmacist should have to reflect changes in pharmacy practice. The PGEU successfully lobbied for the enlargement of the list to include:pharmocoviliglance, contribution to public health campaigns, information on medicines use, support for patients who administer their medication and the distribution and dispensing of safe and effective medicinal products.

The PGEU also supported changes to language testing so that regulators can test the language skills of pharmacists before they begin practising. The PGEU has expressed an interest in using the European Professional Card for the pharmacy profession.

Next steps

Member States now have two years to transpose the amended Directive into national law. It is expected to come into force around 2015 and until then existing rules will remain in force. 

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