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GPs go forth

Why I'm glad to be back in the UK

Dr Mark McCartney explains what drew him back from his post in Australia

In 2013 I resigned from my GP partnership of 23 years and headed to Australia with my family for a new job at the Golden Beach Medical Centre in Queensland. I was fed up with the way the NHS was heading and was looking for a new challenge. I had a four-year visa, and the plan was to see if it could be extended until the end of my career.

My wife and I weren’t sure at first if we had made the right decision for our family and whether we would cope with the demands of living and working in a place where we had no friends or relatives. Luckily, moving to Australia turned out to be a great experience professionally and I really enjoyed learning new ways of doing general practice. Working abroad is something that I would thoroughly recommend.

Returning was hard

The one aspect of practice in Australia that really impressed me was the access and availability of radiological investigations, which are not hospital based. What a different world it is where you can request a CT or MRI and see the patient the next day with the result.

Family reasons brought me back to the UK but making the decision to return was really hard. We had invested so much energy in our new lives and there was a lot to give up - friendships, the outdoor living and the work. In the time since I left, things have not been getting any better for NHS GPs. There is a real recruitment crisis now, and the proposed returners’ scheme will not be enough to attract ex-NHS GPs. The authorities should recognise the experience and skills gained as a GP working abroad and not place additional requirements and restrictions on those who wish to return.

But there are things I missed about the NHS. The continuity of care it offers patients is very much undervalued and the presence of a lifetime NHS record is a great asset. True, I am still trying to understand the changes to the QOF and the new care planning schemes. But UK general practice remains a good career.

We had an amazing experience in Australia and I have no regrets about moving abroad. Nevertheless, I’m now committed to my work in Cornwall and honestly, it’s great to be back.

Everyone in my family now feels closer to one another.

Dr Mark McCartney is a GP in Cornwall

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Readers' comments (28)

  • Vinci Ho

    Welcome back, mate and it is important to respect your decision to join this battlefield again. Not easy as you said but the flag is still flying...,,

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  • you just need to watch as you will now become ( maybe already have ) the 'poster boy' for the government / RCGP to say - LOOK we can get them back from the Aussies !!!
    your case will be misrepresented - it seems you had to come back but it will be portrayed that it is because the government / RCGP attracted you back as the NHS is such a great place to work. This is not true. I hope your optimism continues in a few years time.

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  • His case shows that there is no crisis in GP land.It's all hyperbole and hype.

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  • "Family reasons brought me back to the UK .." he says, he's just rationalising his decision into a positive. Give him time!

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  • All general practice in UK should be privatised.

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  • Let's hold off all the negative replies here
    This guy made a personal decision and fair play to him.
    I wish him all the best for the future.
    (re Vincent Ho - I can't say I get all your Game of thrones/star wars references!!- but I think your comment about joining the battlefield again was v apt !!)

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  • Some people who leave will come back....it is good to hear their perspective on return - and the real value of continuity that we take a little for granted...but it's under threat. Everybody wants it...patients really like it...we need to protect it hey
    Thank you for the article

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  • Given it was personal circumstances its understandable. Just wondered which was better? Maybe not a straightforward one to answer.

    The Australians also have an expression, "Boomerang Pomes". Apologies for using this expression but my understanding is that it refers to Brits who went to Australia, came back to Blighty and then returned to Australia for good...

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  • Ex UK Partner, London, been in Oz 2 years. Will not be coming back. UK GP land needs to improve 10 fold before I consider it. Life is good in Oz!

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  • Family is almost always the reason why we come back, and who we ultimately toil and strive for.

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  • Took Early Retirement

    Well, to be fair, this isn't much of a story, is it? No offence to our colleague of course, but he came back for personal reasons, not because GP is so wonderful here and lousy there; quite the converse it seems, reading what he has written.

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  • As a GP in Australia one has to work hard to make a living unlike UK where it is not always the case for some. If you cut down your hours in Australia- you will see less patients and therefore get less pay: no work - no pay. In the UK you can cut down your sessions in the name of doing admin work and still be paid a handsome amount of money. That's why UK can be attractive for some.

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  • UK general practice is great but needs fine tuning , all need to get salaried, yes all

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  • He came back for family reasons! He mentions continuity of care here but in reality, it's lucky if the patient sees the same GP twice especially in a bigger practice. Good luck to him though..

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  • Welcome back.Its very clear you came back for family reasons etc.

    At least you are honest about it.

    Family is very important- its the sole reason i am still working in Blighty

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  • Lobby RCGP to make it easier for free flow of GPs back to UK from Oz. The restrictions are crazy on rightfully qualified UK GPs returning from Oz: If they're away for 1 yr + then they have to do long unpaid observation period and repeat GP exams!

    Does RCGP think this is a deterrent to GPs leaving in the first place? Haven;t they realised it's a massive deterrent to GPs coming back?

    As Mark says, "The authorities should recognise the experience and skills gained as a GP working abroad and not place additional requirements and restrictions on those who wish to return."

    RCGP policy-makers need to listen carefully to this

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  • I don't know where you were working or what you were doing in Australia mark, but I can say we do "continuity of care" pretty well in the Antipodes - and from what I have read on these pages maybe even better than the NHS

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  • Good choice Mark, you put your family first. Its the most important thing for all of us. The pay can be quite reasonable in the UK. You can have flexibility around your work, i.e choose to work part time or locum and you can be around your family. There is no better feeling than attending your dads 70th, or your nephews 12th birthday. The family reunions and get togethers really make a difference to us... they allow us to step away from work and unwind. Working in Oz teaches you alot, it also allows you to mature as a GP.. you can bring that sense of maturity and self confidence back with you to the UK and find a prosperous career. Good on you Mark

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  • I've worked in Sydney for 8yrs, just received my annual MRCGP invoice. I'm considering not rejoining because they can't do anything for me. I only carried on because I was told it would help if I came back to practice in the UK- however that doesn't appear to be the case. What have other overseas GPs done?

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  • I have had a similar experience to Mark (except as a pharmacist) and had many happy years in Australia working in academia and community. I also returned for family reasons. In Australia the access to things such as scanning and pathology is rapid and easily accessible. More people have some private health care which helps buoy up the system and everyone contriutes something for their prescriptions which means that patients value the items they pay for even though it is a fraction of the actual drug cost. I now work in primary care and while it may seem like a battlefield some days (usually trying to communicate with secondary care) the NHS is a treasure we should value and look after. It is amazing to be able to acces healthcare like this when you need it without cost. So welcome back Mark, there are still things I miss about Oz 6 years on but still so much to offer here.

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  • Alan Shortt

    @ J Smith
    I've retained my Membership for the same reason - essentially to be able to get a "letter of Good Standing" if needs be but realistically a letter of Good Standing from the RACGP should be equally "valid" ?

    Having tried (and apparently failed) to do my best to maintain the ability to return to work in the UK (temporarily or permanently) relatively easily and noting your 8 years absence I might suggest you're likely to find the process a struggle in any case for the foreseeable future despite/because of the new returners scheme
    I fear I may have to just sit things out until there is genuine recognition of equivalence of experience and a genuinely streamlined process that can be done overseas.

    I can elaborate on my own particular use case scenario what I did and what were the stumbling blocks but perhaps should wait till the final outcome of my recent IRS scheme application

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  • Call him a loser, bad doctor, horrible person, anything you want.

    In and out of the agencies that sent him to Australia and then brought him

    Even chimpanzees are given human rights in England

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  • Family is the only thing that keeps me in the UK. If I was single I would be long gone.

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  • As an immigrant , do not come to uk . I am an immigrant and wasted enough time

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  • Living in New Zealand for 3 years now and still enjoying it. I am part time GP and part time medical advisor for the ACC (Accident compensation company), a post which does not exist in the UK. This mixture of new and old/ known practices makes the work life here even more interesting. However there are a lot of things missing such as the freedom of prescribing, not having to charge patients for the consultation (sick patients who can not pay, are sent away to the hospital, where they can be seen for free) and others. The grass is not greener on the other side....what really counts is that your family is happy!

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  • Unless we privatise NHs the quality of care in NHS will decline.I think privatisation is the best bet for survival of nhs.you can't carry on providing free service.

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  • A decade ago, I came back from Australia to Poland despite the dismal working conditions there just because of family reasons and absolutely appreciate Dr McCartney's decision.
    There are things that override any professional considerations - after all we work to live and not live to work.

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  • I've been away from England for almost 3 years.
    I still have all my family back in England and miss them. However I'm married and have a young child and another baby on the way. I'm able to give my family a better life than I ever could in the uk. I understand family ties are extremely important and often a huge factor in preventing people from moving abroad, and also a major reason why people return after spending time away. My folks are retired now and are spending increasing amounts of time visiting me and with Skype etc the world has become a smaller place and distances don't seem as far.
    Whilst this chaps reason for returning are family related, id also like to point out that there are many many others who wouldn't return precisely because of the life that are able to live and give to their families abroad.
    There always different stories and examples. My view is that you should feel happy and comfortable in your life and career and not be tied to any particular place. When I return back to the town I grew up in the midlands I hardly recognise it now anyway, most of my old friends have moved on.
    Have the best life and career you can and make
    Memories you will enjoy!!

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