Proportion of NHS GPs trained in EEA stabilises despite Brexit uncertainty

The proportion of NHS GPs trained in the EEA has stabilised after a steady decline since the start of the decade - despite uncertainty around Brexit, GMC figures show.

Figures published by the regulator show that the proportion of doctors on the UK GP register who trained in another European Economic Area (EEA) country remained at 5% this year, matching the figure for 2019. The proportion of European GPs working in the UK fell significantly from 5.9% in 2012 to 5.2% in 2016, but appears now to be levelling off.

More family doctors entered UK practice from Europe this year as 189 gained their GMC registration -  rising from 170 in 2019. However, the figure for 2020 remains lower than the 256 clinicians who entered the GP workforce in 2014.

Meanwhile, the number of EEA GPs leaving UK practice has decreased. A total of 142 clinicians relinquished their licence to practise for at least one year in 2019, compared to 183 registrants in 2018 - continuing a general pattern of better retention since 2015.

Brexit impact

The report comes as new guidance from the DHSC explains that EEA doctors will be able to join the register after the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December 2020.

Statistics from the GMC’s ‘Our data about doctors with a European primary medical qualification’ report for 2020 showed that GPs from Ireland were the largest group of European doctors practising in the UK with 700 on the register. 

GPs from Germany were the second biggest group with 528 registered to practice in the UK, while Spain rounded off the top three contributing 309 doctors.

Overall the GMC figures showed that 2,268 doctors joined the register in the year to 30 June 2020, representing a 7.5% increase on the previous year. There was also a year-on-year decrease of doctors leaving the UK (7.4%). The report showed that 2,724 EEA-qualified doctors are in UK training programmes - representing 5% of all general practice trainees (572).

Overseas doctors

GMC chief executive Charlie Massey said: 'We’re grateful to the thousands of European and international doctors who choose to live and work in the UK and make a huge difference for patients.

‘Despite uncertainty over the UK’s future relationship with the EU, we have observed steady growth in recent years. But we must not be complacent as the long-term impact of both Brexit and the pandemic on travel and decisions to emigrate and settle in the UK remain largely unknown.’

He added that the regulator would continue to do all it could to support the flow of doctors into the UK and retain those who had already joined the workforce.

The GMC chief executive recently warned that the NHS had to do all it could to doctors who rejoined the healthcare workforce during the pandemic. This came as he predicted a drop in overseas recruitment triggered by the pandemic.

The new system to be introduced following Brexit will be based on place of qualification rather than the doctor’s nationality. This means that doctors with a relevant qualification from the EEA will have those qualifications recognised for registration – but subject to that evidence being independently verified.

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