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The waiting game

Welcoming the Windrush GP generation

Editor’s blog

In the summer of 1948, the Empire Windrush ship steamed its way up the Thames with 500 hopeful settlers from Kingston, Jamaica.

These ‘sons of the empire’ - as the newspapers called them at the time - were the first wave recruits from the Commonwealth, brought to a war-ravaged UK to plug recruitment gaps in public services like the NHS and London Transport.

And nearly 70 years later general practice will soon see its own version of the Windrush, although they are more likely to come by EasyJet from Europe rather than traverse the Atlantic in an old German cruise boat.

Some have already arrived. Pulse reported earlier this year that Lincolnshire was leading the way – advertising conversion training, help getting on the performer’s list and a guaranteed £90k salary for 25 lucky EU GPs.

And other areas with shortages of GPs have followed their example – with 20 GPs from Portugal, Spain, Romania, Czech Republic and Slovakia all making plans to practise in Essex, Humberside and east Yorkshire.

I am sure you know the context to this. There are GP recruitment blackspots all over the country, with practices sometimes waiting years to fill a vacancy. Despite promising 5,000 extra GPs, ministers have found it increasingly difficult to attract enough extra GPs to train and/or remain in general practice. The last set of GP workforce figures were sobering reading – a drop of 1.3%.

I have lost count of the number of older GPs who have told me they have chucked in partnership and are just working the odd session now. You can’t begrudge these battle-hardened war veterans – particularly as they often look visibly more relaxed and carefree – but their loss leaves a big hole.

To give NHS England credit, they recognise this and are putting in place the quickest solution they can: recruiting 2,000 experienced GPs from the EU, Australia, New Zealand and other countries.

I understand the sense of urgency comes from the very top and, for an organisation not known for its rapid action; managers are working hard to make it happen. And they need to; there is a rapidly closing window of opportunity before tougher immigration rules come in for EU nationals post-Brexit.

Of course, the original Windrush generation did not always have the warmest of welcomes when they arrived, but I am sure practices with long-term unfilled vacancies will open their arms. CCGs are currently being asked how many they would like to come to their areas - I would not be surprised if the 2,000 target is then increased as a result.

The paradox is that this comes at the same time the health secretary is declaring his ambition for this country to be ‘self sufficient’ for doctor recruitment by the end of the next Parliament. But this – much like the 5,000 GPs target itself - is fantasy politics.

The reality of the situation is that we will be relying on foreign-born doctors to keep our head above water for a long while yet.

Nigel Praities is editor of Pulse

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Readers' comments (8)

  • Vinci Ho

    It is not a matter of giving NHSE credit because the word is always responsibility. After all , it is a subordinate body of DoH and government. Why are we in this mess now? What is the source?
    Ice deep frozen down to three feet is not due to one day cold.

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  • Mr Mephisto

    Dear Nigel. Please enlighten me on a few points. As far as I am aware Hulls previous attempt at European GP recruitment was a complete flop. If that scheme was a failure, why should this scheme succeed? Secondly if all of our GP's are leaving for Australia and New Zealand why would anyone expect Australia and New Zealand GP's to come to the UK?

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  • NHSE and DoH are run by the same single synapses who decided to call Brexit referendum to quieten down a few in the Tory party with no plan B, who now find themselves in a situation with no idea what to do or how to get out if it. They haven't a clue what to do with the NHS and are leaving us all to sink faster and faster. Please PULSE can you find the recruitment documents going out to Oz and NZ. What is being promised to make anyone consider coming to this cesspit of a health. Service? I pity our kids.

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    Home grown gp's wasted by an rcgp exam they cant pas
    Home grown gp's leaving/retiring due to appraisal and revalidation beaurocracy
    but anyone else ... sure come on down
    What happened to GMC protecting patients
    Where are the high standards now?
    Double standards
    Will they have to do the PLAB Language test
    it all stinks..

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  • I'm still awaiting the offer of golden handcuffs as reducing hours & retiral make increasing financial sense given our bizarre superannuation arrangements.

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  • I am leaving for good to Oz in 5 months. the likelihood is I will be earning 3-4 times what I am here, for less work, more respect, time to be a better doctor, and less constraint on resources. Topped off by a vastly improved quality of life and fewer leechers sucking the benefits teet and my tax dollars.

    Please NHSE tell me how you plan to recruit me back?

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  • Foreign born and trained. Even if this were to work we are robbing others of their GPs rather than build a sustainable future.

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  • Perhaps we should make GP working lives sustainable and better remunerated
    The partnership model. Reds tweaking and investment and seniority pay for being a partner with yearly increments
    The salaried contract is too restrictive and protective
    All the pay with not enough commitment and responsibility at time leaving partners filling in any gaps !

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