Monday, 26 September 2016

Daily Mail wrongly claims: 'Patients at risk from EU doctors'

Another day, another inaccurate report about the European Union in one of Britain's national newspapers. No wonder Brexit won.

At the weekend, the Daily Mail front page shouted, ‘PATIENTS AT RISK FROM EU DOCTORS’. The newspaper – along with others – claimed that thousands of EU doctors can work in the UK without basic safety checks because of EU laws.

The Daily Mail had quoted from a statement by the General Medical Council, but it’s completely incorrect according to the London office of the European Commission. 

The head of the GMC, Niall Dickson, was quoted as saying:
'Some European doctors – because we haven't checked their competency – may struggle when they practise here and that could put patients at risk. Medicine is very culturally specific. Doctors who come from other cultures can find it a significant challenge practising in the UK.
'We are able to assess their language skills but we cannot check their competency to practise. That's just a reality.'
According to the Daily Mail story:
'European laws prevent the watchdog, which regulates doctors working in Britain, from testing the medical skills of those from the EU as this would impede their right to freedom of movement.
'Instead, the GMC must automatically assume applicants from all other member states are just as competent as British-trained doctors.'
The Daily Mail, however, didn’t bother to check with the European Commission, or any other source, to give balance to their shocking front-page story.

The EuroMyths blog of the European Commission was quick to publish a response, but which newspaper will publish it? 

I will.

The European Commission’s alternative headline ran:

‘EU doctors in UK are not “a threat to patients” as Daily Mail says. If they left, that WOULD put patients in danger’.

Explained the Commission:
‘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.
‘Yet, the Daily Mail runs yet another misleading front page article on 24 September headlined “Patients at risk from EU doctors” and alleging that “thousands of EU doctors can work in the UK without basic safety checks.”
Continued the Commission:
‘..the threat to patients comes from “EU doctors” deciding to leave the UK rather than staying here to save lives and cure illness. 
'So, while clearly patient safety should always be the top priority for healthcare organisations, it is hard to see how national newspaper front pages and online pieces impugning European doctors’ professionalism will help patients.’
The Commission confirmed:
‘Again, the Mail chose not to contact us for comment before its latest splash.’
And the Commission pointed out that the Daily Mail, as well as not bothering to contact them to check the accuracy of their story, also didn’t bother to properly quote from the GMC. 

Excluded from the Daily Mail’s story was this key quote 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 added (but which was also not included in the Daily Mail story): 
‘As the Commission has also pointed out, and we accept, 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.’
There have been many complaints and comments via Twitter against the Daily Mail's inaccurate story, including Tweets by doctors expressing outrage at the story.

I emailed the General Medical Council about the Daily Mail's story, and they have replied this afternoon to advise only that their head, Niall Dickson, was accurately quoted in the Daily Mail article. He also was quoted as saying:
'I should add that many of the doctors who have come here have been extremely good and have helped our system and have delivered fantastic care. We absolutely want to protect their position post-Brexit.'
I have written back to the GMC as follows:
'I do feel disappointed that the GMC could not say anything regarding the Daily Mail’s choice of headline, ‘Patients at risk from EU doctors’. In my view and that of many doctors who have complained, this was a most misleading headline, that will unnecessarily alarm patients, and which dishonestly and wrongly casts an aspersion against all EU doctors working for our NHS.
'Is the GMC not worried that if we make EU doctors in the UK feel so unwelcome, they will simply leave, whether or not they are allowed to stay post-Brexit?' 
I will report back here if I receive a further response from the GMC.

The online version of the Daily Mail’s story also published accompanying article referring to an error by a European doctor leading to a patient’s death. 

Commented the Commission:
‘This was clearly a tragedy which required – and seems to have led to – full investigation and action to prevent re-occurrence. 
'But implying that it is evidence of a general threat from “EU doctors” is as misleading as it would be to take a similar case of incompetence by an individual British doctor as evidence that thousands of other hardworking and competent British practitioners pose a threat.’
Conclusion: EU doctors in UK are not "a threat to patients" as the Daily Mail claims. If they left the UK, that really WOULD put patients in danger.

• Who wants to volunteer to complain about this entirely misleading Daily Mail story to the press watchdog, the so-called 'Independent Press Standards Organisation'? (Although a word of warning: in charge of the ‘independent’ watch-dog’s ethics committee is none other than… the editor of the Daily Mail). 

• Related: 

European Commission Press Release: 'Modernisation of the Professional Qualifications Directive – frequently asked questions'

EU legislation regarding free movement of professionals Recognition of professional qualifications across the EU.

Other articles by Jon Danzig:

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