Dr Benjamin Tarsh, who moved to Australia from England over 30 years ago to train as a GP, wants to return to the UK following the decline of his parents’ health, one of whom has terminal cancer.
However, the GP says enormous amounts of red tape have made it virtually impossible for him to join the GMC GP register - warning the process is likely to put scores of other doctors off joining the NHS at a time when the general practice workforce is already in crisis.
Dr Tarsh, who practices in Melbourne and examines for the Royal Australian College of General Practice, said: ‘It’s crazy. The UK has a desperate shortage of doctors and I’m a highly trained GP, but the professional bodies won’t recognise my qualifications automatically.'
He says the impasse has left him facing a stark choice between quitting medicine, or attempting to 'hop' constantly between the UK and Australia to continue working.
GMC director of registration and revalidation Una Lane said current legislation was ‘not fit for purpose’ - adding that it was ‘very challenging’ for GPs who qualified outside the EEA to register as GPs in the UK.
All political parties have promised to increase the GP workforce in the run-up to the 12 December general election - but the current government has failed to deliver on promises to boost the workforce, with the latest official data showing that the full-time equivalent, fully-qualified GP workforce fell by 340 in the year to September 2019.
Dr Tarsh called on the government to conduct an urgent review of the process to make it ‘tenable’. Failure to do so will put many other international GPs off joining the NHS, he warns.
He says excessive paperwork involved in the Certificate of Eligibility for General Practice Registration (CEGPR) and other parts of the process are laborious, requiring candidates to produce hundreds of pages of employment evidence.
Dr Tarsh said: ‘Having moved abroad to be able to study medicine when I was younger, it's got to the stage now where it would be ideal for me to come back and work in the NHS. However, I can't and the reason for that is the current GMC equivalence recognition system.
‘If you want to attract doctors to the UK when there is a worldwide shortage of them, the last thing you want to be doing is to make the obstacles difficult because doctors will turn around and say, "well what's the point".'
In October 2018, the GMC introduced the streamlined process for Australia (SPA), aiming to make it easier for GPs to join the UK register. The GMC said this scheme would mean less work for GPs and would halve the application time to six weeks - five doctors have joined through this route so far.
Dr Tarsh argued that the process is still far too complicated, inflexible and time consuming, stating he had been asked to collect information about his entire work history - 31 different postings in total.
‘With the greatest will in the world, I don’t know this information… I put my CV together and it was just under 30 pages - who’s going to read a 30-page CV? They’re underestimating the work involved in this.’
Dr Tarsh’s application has been further complicated by the fact that he cannot obtain all the evidence he needs from previous employers to present to the GMC due to Australian privacy law.
Ms Lane said the current system was unfit for purpose, but added: ‘We are doing everything we can to support the growth of our GP workforce and we have worked closely with the RCGP to streamline and simplify the process for GPs qualified in Australia, Canada, South Africa and New Zealand.
‘We are pleased that the DHSC has committed to changing legislation in this area and we look forward to working with them in developing a system that will benefit GPs from overseas, who wish to work here while maintaining the standards that all patients have a right to expect from their doctors.’
GMC chief executive Charlie Massey has previously called on the government to make it easier for doctors from outside Europe to work in the NHS, labelling the current legislation ‘bonkers’.
GPonline recently reported that the NHS faced missing out on thousands of doctors because it was failing to make it easy for British medical students, who graduated abroad, to work in the NHS following graduation.
Dr Tarsh said: ‘The UK and Australia educate doctors to a very high standard. It is for that reason that Australia has no problem taking UK trained doctors, certainly not in general practice - it's relatively straightforward - and I think absolute reciprocity needs to come into the process.’