Steve Barnett looks at EU law and its potential impact on the NHS workforce in 2008

With well over half of British legislation now hailing from Brussels, the work of the European Union has greater implications for workforce issues than ever before. NHS Employers represents the views of NHS organisations on European employment legislation, regulation and policy and plays a leading role in ensuring NHS interests are taken into account in the European employment arena.

The European Commission's legislative and work programme for the next year includes a number of significant employment initiatives likely to affect the NHS workforce, and so NHS Employers will be working hard to ensure the views of employers in the NHS are taken into account in 2008.

NHS Employers works first and foremost with two European organisations that are recognised by the European Commission as social partners. This affords European public sector employers the opportunity to exchange information, influence European employment policy and legislation and negotiate on issues of common importance. Membership of the European Centre of Enterprises with Public Participation (CEEP), which represents European public sector employers, and the European Hospital and Healthcare Employers' Association (HOSPEEM), allows the NHS to influence employment policy developments emerging from the European Commission.

Issues under review in 2008

Cross-border healthcare: In 2008, we expect a draft directive on cross-border healthcare (patient mobility) and a green paper on health professionals in Europe, which will announce an investigation into issues related to the mobility of health professionals across member state borders.

Musculoskeletal disorders: A community initiative on work-related musculoskeletal disorders is planned for the year ahead, aiming to integrate into a single legislative instrument the provisions on the protection of the health and safety of workers from the risks of musculoskeletal disorders at work.

Needlestick injuries: We anticipate work on the prevention of needlestick injuries and an amendment of the current directive in relation to employee rights under the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 (TUPE).

Private and family life: There have also been discussions on the reconciliation of professional, private and family life, which could involve changes to paternity and maternity leave and the introduction of new leave entitlements, with possible implications for the NHS.

Flexicurity: The European Commission issued a green paper on labour law in November 2006 that included the Commission's proposals on "flexicurity" - part of the Lisbon agenda designed to develop a flexible but well-trained workforce. The Commission's proposals are likely to have a significant impact on the European workforce. NHS Employers contributed to the consultation through CEEP.

Working Time Directive: Perhaps most infamously, both the proposed changes to the European Working Time Directive and the draft Temporary Agency Workers Directive will be passed to the Slovenian Presidency of the European Union in 2008, after EU member states failed to reach an agreement in December 2007. It is important to note, however, that an agreement on the Working Time Directive would have in any case been too late to affect NHS planning for implementing the 48-hour week for doctors in training by 2009, as changes would then have needed to be ratified by the European Parliament. Planning for the year ahead should therefore continue unaffected.

Recruitment and retention: As part of the work programme of the European hospital sector social dialogue committee, HOSPEEM and the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU) have formed two working groups to explore potential solutions to common problems in the European hospital and healthcare sector. Issues under the spotlight are recruitment and retention and new skill needs. NHS Employers is playing an active part in this initiative, with representatives on both working groups.

As a result of this collaboration, we will soon see the launch of the joint code of conduct on ethical cross-border recruitment and retention in the hospital sector. These voluntary guidelines will focus on healthcare professionals moving to work in another EU member state and highlight the responsibilities of both the employers and healthcare professionals involved, including induction processes, the information healthcare professionals need to share with their new employers and details of registration procedures and work permits. The guidelines will be published and shared across the EU in the coming year.

Ageing workforce: The hospital sector's new skill needs group is looking at the possibility of producing good practice guidance that can be shared across Europe. This group is due to complete its work over the course of next year. In addition, HOSPEEM and EPSU are working with European Commission officials to set up a project to investigate the ageing workforce in the healthcare sector.

With the EU forecasting a year of interesting and potentially significant developments for our workforce, and as the largest employer in Europe, it is vital that the NHS is represented effectively to promote the interests of its employees and patients. As we look ahead to 2008, NHS Employers resolves to continue to work hard to ensure the voice of the NHS and those within it is heard and recognised in the EU.

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