A new European law could undermine patient safety by allowing foreign health professionals to work in the UK with minimal checks, clinical representatives have warned.

The EU directive allows health workers who come to the UK on a 'temporary basis' to register for work automatically as long as they are legally established and qualified in their own state.

Guidance issued by the Department of Health this week confirms that registration will be a 'mere formality' for these workers.

Professional regulators will be unable to make criminal records checks or ask the migrants how long they intend to stay.

They also cannot impose UK requirements for ongoing training, known as continuing professional development, for migrants who have met professional development requirements in their own country, 'even if the UK regulator considers these inadequate', the guidance says.

The government's response to a consultation on the directive, published last week, acknowledges concerns about patient safety expressed during the negotiations.

It describes the end result as a 'compromise'.

'Some of the concerns are not amenable to mitigation as they are embedded in the wording of the directive, which cannot be changed. Wherever it has been possible to strengthen patient safety safeguards, we have done so in the implementing regulations.'

Regulators can impose an aptitude test in limited cases, where there is a significant shortfall in the applicant's training.

The directive opens up freedom of movement to allied health professionals such as physiotherapists, psychologists and radiographers. Foreign doctors already benefit from a form of temporary registration but critics claim the new directive loosens important safeguards.

Postgraduate Medical Education and Training Board head of policy Mark Dexter said: 'The practical effect of the changes may foster a system which is difficult to administer and most importantly one which could undermine patient safety.'

Abi Smith, deputy chair of the British Medical Association's international committee, said she was pleased with the adoption of the directive in principle but concerned that applicants did not have to prove they had gone through the same rigorous training as UK doctors.

Katerina Kolyva, Europe officer at the Nursing and Midwifery Council, said that there was a 'very big diversity in training and experience' of health professionals across Europe.

She said regulators were working together to better harmonise registration requirements.

HSJ understands the new rules, which became law last month, are likely to be used by health workers who plan to work part-time in the UK for up to a year, or during major events such as the Olympics.

NHS Employers senior business manager Sean King said employers had a duty to make sure that staff had the right skills.

'The DoH has no choice but to implement the directive otherwise the government could be found in breach of EU procedure,' he said.