Pointless red tape undermining GP recruitment from abroad, warns GMC

Red tape is blocking NHS efforts to recruit overseas doctors, the GMC has warned, after just 10 GPs or consultants from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) were able to work in senior roles upon arrival in the UK last year.

GMC chief executive Charlie Massey
GMC chief executive Charlie Massey

GMC chief executive Charlie Massey told a conference in London that current legislation was ‘outdated’ and prevented much-needed senior doctors from working in the UK.

Doctors from outside Europe are legally required to provide up to 2,000 pages of evidence to the GMC before they are allowed to work as an NHS GP or consultant – a process that can take more than nine months.

Mr Massey called for urgent action to ‘cut red tape’ and more flexibility for the GMC to determine how senior doctors from overseas prove their knowledge and skills, warning that a change was vital to ease the current NHS workforce crisis.

NHS red tape

The GMC chief executive also called for an overhaul of 'historic legislation' that requires the regulator to investigate every allegation it receives about a doctor - with the number of complaints it receives each year now 20 times higher than three decades ago.

Mr Massey argued that the demands of investigating such a large number of cases - the majority of which the regulator says 'come to nothing' prevent it from channelling more resources into preventing doctors from making mistakes in the first place.

The call for a simplier registration process follows warnings from GMC director of registration and revalidation Una Lane who said last December that current legislation was ‘not fit for purpose’.

The mountain of paperwork doctors from outside the EEA can face is a factor that can put many off working in the NHS.

GP workforce

Speaking at a Westminster Health Forum event Mr Massey called on the UK government to reform the rules as a matter of urgency and reduce the administrative burden on doctors.

He said: ‘The UK continues to be a popular destination for international medical graduates. Last year, for the first time, we saw more graduates joining the workforce from overseas than coming out of UK medical schools.

‘But while we expect up to 10,000 overseas doctors to join the register this year, last year only 10 GPs or consultants from outside the EEA joined via the relevant specialist registration route and were able to practise at a senior level immediately.

‘We need more flexibility. That doesn’t mean a reduction in standards, simply a change to legislation to give us more discretion for determining how senior international doctors can demonstrate their knowledge and skills.

Overseas doctors

‘That could increase the rate at which senior doctors join the workforce – meaning more practitioners to support patients in need.'

Last December, GPonline spoke to Dr Benj Tarsh, who warned that excessive bureaucracy was deterring overseas-qualified GPs from joining the UK register.

Dr Tarsh, who was born in the UK but qualified as a GP in Australia, argued that the current process was 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.

The GP, who continues to have difficulty with his registration, told GPonline this month that time was ‘running out’ for him to return to practise in the UK.

‘I do have a time limit. I have been offered a job back at my old clinic in August of 2020. If I accept this job, I will be leaving and am unlikely to return to work in the NHS.’

Meanwhile, Mr Massey called for a reduction in the number of investigations the GMC is required to carry out. The regulator receives in excess of 7,000 complaints annually – a huge increase on the 350 it received when the Medical Act was passed more than 30 years ago.

Mr Massey said: ‘The result is that we spend the bulk of our time processing complaints – the majority of which come to nothing – rather than focusing our resources on stopping doctors getting into difficulty in the first place.

‘Legislative reform would allow us to be much more proportionate and precise, so we could prioritise the areas of greatest concern.’

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