Break down the barriers stopping overseas GPs working in the UK, demands RCGP

CREDIT: This story was first seen on the RCGP news

GPs must be added to the Migration Advisory Committee’s Shortage Occupation List in order to tackle the severe lack of GPs across the UK, according to the Royal College of General Practitioners.

Writing to home secretary Amber Rudd today, RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard highlights how current visa processes for GPs from abroad wanting to work in the UK are contributing to a workforce shortage in general practice, which saw patients unable to make an appointment with a GP or practice nurse on 47.5m occasions last year, according to College analysis of the last GP Patient Survey in July.

Currently professions on the Shortage Occupation List include classically trained ballet dancers, animators, and orchestra musicians – as well as medical professions such as radiographers, old age psychiatrists, paramedics and nurses.

In the letter, she states: “The RCGP has long made the case that GPs should be added to the Shortage Occupation List and the need for urgent action on this matter continues to grow.

“The public’s healthcare needs have continued to grow over the last few years, but recruitment of the general practice workforce has not been sufficient to meet demand. Clear goals have been set to increase the GP workforce, as outlined in the GP Forward View for England, and similar aims across the UK.

“Our recent Annual Assessment of progress towards the GPFV so far, we expressed concern that the goal of 5,000 more GPs employed in England by 2020 is unlikely to be met without an urgent re-think of the plan. We have also projected that the workforce needs to expand by 856 whole-time equivalent GPs in Scotland, 485 in Wales and 272 in Northern Ireland by 2021 to meet the needs of their populations.”

Professor Stokes-Lampard makes the case that with NHS England’s drive to recruit at least 2,000 doctors from abroad to work in UK general practice – which the RCGP supports and has championed – that there is ‘likely to be even more pressure on the visa application system and potentially even longer processing times.’

She draws on real-life examples to demonstrate the current concerns and frustrations with the system:

  • A UK-trained GP, unable to take up a job offer due to visa application delays, forcing the GP practice to hire a locum at significant cost;
  • A GP originally from South East Asia, trained in Scotland, and offered employment in England – but who was informed by the Home Office it may take up to 18 weeks to extend her visa, by which time it would have expired;
  • An international medical graduate who described feeling ‘discriminated against’ and ‘unwelcome’ do to persistent threats of deportation if he does not renew his visa on time – something he has struggled to finance.

GPs from overseas who have trained in the UK and wish to practise after attaining MRCGP face an additional hurdle in applying for Indefinite Leave to Remain as specialty GP training is only three years – two years fewer than the minimum requirement of five years. Specialty training for other medical specialties is at least five years.

Professor Stokes-Lampard wrote: “There are high vacancies for GPs across the UK and practices are struggling to fill posts. The situation on the ground is probably worse than official estimates, as posts may be being filled by locums in the short-term, or where vacancies are not being advertised as the practices know from experience they are unlikely to get a strong enough field of candidates.

“It takes at least 10 years to train a GP from the UK (from entering medical school); recruitment strategies will not solve the urgent gaps in our workforce in the short-term, and is unlikely meet longer term needs. With a high number of GPs set to retire in the next few years, the future of general practice is a serious concern. We need to do everything possible to make the process for GPs entering the UK workforce as simple and straight forward as possible.”

The RCGP has already been outspoken in previous calls for GPs to be added to the Shortage Occupation List – a key ask in the College’s manifesto launched ahead of the General Election in June. The College has also consistently called for assurances for GPs from the European Union to have their status protected during Brexit negotiations.

In her letter, Professor Stokes-Lampard concludes: “We would therefore urge action to improve visa processing and support for the RCGP’s call for GPs to be added to Shortage Occupation List. This would help us to both keep the GPs providing an essential service to practices and patients across the UK, and to encourage more people to consider moving here and to help keep our health service going.”

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