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NI streamlines recruitment processes for internationally-qualified GPs 

NI streamlines recruitment processes for internationally-qualified GPs 

The processes for some internationally-qualified GPs looking to take up roles in Northern Ireland are to become more streamlined, the health minister has announced. 

This includes those qualified in the Republic of Ireland, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa.

Under current rules, GPs who have trained outside the UK or who have not practised in the UK in the past two years are required to undertake an initial knowledge assessment exam as part of the GP Induction and Refresher Scheme before they can practise in Northern Ireland. 

Under the new process being brought forward by health minister Robin Swann, GPs who qualified in the Republic of Ireland in the last two years will be exempt from sitting the exam. 

Mr Swann said today: ‘The similarities between GP training in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are well recognised.

‘Amending the Scheme so that doctors who have completed training in the Republic of Ireland will not be required to sit the knowledge test (MCQ) if they have successfully completed the Irish College of General Practitioners examination within the last two years is a pragmatic step which removes an unnecessary barrier to qualified GPs practising in Northern Ireland.’ 

In addition, the minister confirmed that Northern Ireland will be participating in a new UK-wide scheme where GPs who have trained in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa will be able to use a streamlined process known as the Certificate of Eligibility for GP Registration (CEGPR SP) if certain conditions around their training and professional experience have been met.  

The new scheme will make it easier for GPs who have practised in these countries to work in Northern Ireland and potentially make it easier for doctors who left Northern Ireland to return. 

The Northern Ireland Department of Health indicated to Pulse that the changes are effective immediately.

Chair of the BMA’s GP Committee for Northern Ireland Alan Stout said the news was welcome and ‘extremely timely’. 

‘Any efforts by the Department of Health to simplify the processes internationally-qualified doctors must go through in order to practise in Northern Ireland will hopefully go some way to addressing the critical shortage of GPs we have in primary care,’ he said. 

He added: ‘I’m also glad to see that medical graduates from Northern Ireland who studied in the Republic of Ireland will have one less exam to take if they want to practise as a GP here. This not only reflects the similarity in GP training between the two nations but also acknowledges that a significant number of doctors from Northern Ireland study for medical qualifications in the south. 

‘As well as reducing recruitment red tape where possible, there are many other areas where we need urgent action from the Department of Health. This includes priority roll-out of multi-disciplinary teams across the country, continued increase in training numbers, changes to pension taxation to prevent GPs retiring early, and an indemnity solution for Northern Ireland to match the rest of the UK.’ 

The move follows a £5.5m package of support announced last month to help ease the pressures facing general practice in Northern Ireland.  

Meanwhile, the RCGP has called for a reform of ‘nonsensical’ visa rules in an open letter to the UK home secretary signed by 4,367 GPs and GP trainees, saying they are a ‘barrier’ to GP trainees from overseas ‘at a time when general practice is facing intense workload and workforce pressures’.