UK-trained GPs receiving 'deportation letters' shortly after qualifying, MPs told

Newly qualified GPs are being driven out of the NHS because international medical graduates (IMGs) who complete UK general practice training sometimes receive letters threatening deportation shortly after qualifying, doctors' leaders have warned.

Health and social care select committee chair Jeremy Hunt
Health and social care select committee chair Jeremy Hunt (Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Giving evidence to the House of Commons health and social care select committee, RCGP vice chair of professional development Dr Margaret Ikpoh said that some doctors were 'literally going from celebrating the fact that they've become a GP, to receiving letters threatening them with deportation'.

Financial pressures linked to maintaining their visa status were a 'major barrier' for IMGs completing GP training in the UK, Dr Ikpoh added - warning that if the UK failed to demonstrate that it valued newly qualified GPs despite spending significant sums of money on their development, many would simply move abroad.

She told MPs: 'I'm contacted on a regular basis by trainees who despite the fact that we've spent £50,000 a year training them up - and perhaps in areas of deprivation, they've also been given funding perhaps through the targeted enhanced reimbursement scheme - and at the end of their training they're literally going from celebrating the fact that they've become a GP to receiving letters threatening them with deportation.

GP workforce

'That can't be right. It has to change and we have to value them better. Because if we don't we'll lose them, and some are already going to places where they feel that they are more valued, and Canada is on the top of the list. I think it's an easy win for all of us to try and sort out.'

Dr Ikpoh's comments come just a week after GPonline reported that the Home Office had dismissed as 'needless scaremongering' a warning from the RCGP that the NHS faced losing many doctors who had recently completed UK GP training because they were not automatically eligible for indefinite leave to remain and could be put off by heavy visa costs and bureaucracy.

Almost half of doctors who began UK GP training in 2021/22 were IMGs - and many could struggle to work in the NHS after they complete training because the vast majority of GP practices are not set up as 'visa sponsors'.

The RCGP has argued that IMGs who complete UK GP training should be offered automatic indefinite leave to remain - and that until this can be put in place, visas should be extended to three months beyond the date when they complete training.

Visa status

The loss of newly-qualified GPs to other countries comes as the UK GP workforce remains in decline. The number of fully-qualified full-time equivalent GPs in England fell by more than 700 in the three years to March 2022.

Numbers of GP trainees coming through the system are integral to a claim repeated frequently by the UK government - and described as 'misleading' by the BMA - that the number of 'doctors working in general practice' is rising.

GP trainees are 'doctors working in general practice' - although they are not yet GPs, and cannot practise independently in general practice. Although the 'fully qualified' GP workforce is falling, by adding trainees into the figures it quotes the government can claim that 'doctors working in general practice' are rising.

However, evidence suggests many of these doctors could leave the UK before they ever join the ranks of 'fully qualified' GPs.

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