GMC chief executive Charlie Massey argued that employing doctors from outside of the European Economic Area (EEA) was ‘a less certain route' to boosting doctor numbers - suggesting that growth in this area would slow.
The GMC chief executive said the profession had to take the opportunity to ‘harness the willingness’ of doctors who had returned to service during the pandemic - and encourage them to return permanently. He cited GMC data showing nearly 2,000 doctors who have returned to work declared an interest in staying.
His warning comes as GPonline reported last month that assessment of overseas doctors since March had dropped by 85% - threatening to slow the flow of international doctors into the NHS.
In recent years the UK has recruiting doctors heavily from overseas, with GMC figures showing that 55% of doctors who joined the NHS workforce between June 2018 and June 2019 qualified outside the UK.
But the pandemic has disrupted recruitment of doctors from overseas, with the GMC forced to cancel PLAB2 exams during the first wave of the pandemic. Just 797 candidates completed this test between April and October this year - down from 5,361 last year.
At the annual GMC conference Mr Massey stressed that the profession should look at alterntative ways of boosting doctor numbers. He said: 'Our data show that over 10,000 international medical graduates (IMGs) joined the UK workforce this year, more than UK and EEA graduates combined.
‘These doctors do a fantastic job and have become an indispensable part of our medical workforce. That’s why we worked hard through the pandemic to restart our PLAB tests as soon as we could, to allow overseas doctors to take the exams they need to practise in the UK.
'But while those numbers have held up this year, the impact of COVID across the world makes this a less certain route for the longer term. I do not think we can presume that these numbers will continue to grow as they have done. So, for workforce planning, we should not rely on these doctors to meet growing demand.'
The GMC chief executive argued that focus should instead switch to retention of current staff, insisting that more should be done to keep on those doctors who accepted emergency registrations to return to work during the pandemic.
The regulator granted emergency registrations to around 30,000 doctors during the pandemic, of whom 1,800 told the regulator that they would consider returning to permanent registration.
Mr Massey said: ‘Given the continuing challenges across our healthcare services, this creates a real opportunity to provide much needed resources both for the short and longer term. We are now sharing these insights and working with partners across the UK, so we can harness this willingness, and help enable more doctors to return.’
The GMC recently announced it would open a temporary COVID secure test centre to restore the number of doctors it can test to pre-pandemic levels.