One in 20 GPs across the UK gained their primary medical qualification in an EU country, according to figures which have renewed fears about the impact of Brexit on a workforce already at breaking point.
A GMC report showed that 3,122 GPs graduated in an EU country other than the UK, most commonly Ireland, Italy, Germany, Romania, Poland, Spain, Netherlands and France.
The figures – which also include data from non-EU Switzerland, Norway and Iceland – show that in England 2,429 or 5% of GPs first qualified outside the UK.
Northern Ireland has the highest proportion of GPs graduating from a European country at 11%, or 185 GPs.
Both Scotland (226) and Wales (102) have 4% of GPs who got their primary medical degree in a European country.
A further 191 GPs qualified in Europe but were not linked to a specific region, the GMC figures show.
European GPs practising in the UK
Northern Ireland: 185 (11%)
England: 2,429 (5%)
Scotland: 226 (4%)
Wales: 102 (4%)
Total UK: 3,122 (5%)
Source: GMC, as indicated by country where they trained (EEA).
The RCGP said that although some of these GPs may be UK citizens, the figures were a strong indicator of a doctor’s origin – and their potential loss due to Brexit is of ‘grave concern’ for patient safety.
It comes as everal surveys have warned that Brexit will have a damaging impact on staffing of GP practices – including a previous GMC audit showing 60% of EU doctors are considering quitting the country, and a BMA poll which showed EU doctors are already feeling significantly less valued by the Government.
And the RCGP, BMA and MPs have all called on politicians to safeguard GPs during the Brexit negotiations – but as yet to no avail.
RCGP Scotland chair Dr Miles Mack said: ‘There is already a projected deficit of 828 whole-time equivalent GPs in Scotland, by 2021.
‘To learn that Scotland could face the loss of an additional 4% of its already stretched GP workforce is extremely worrying.
‘We are calling for the Government to safeguard the GP workforce during international negotiations by guaranteeing the status of healthcare professionals already working in Scotland and the UK.’
He added that a further 146 GPs in Scotland were facing possible removal because they were nationals of other EU member states.
‘Again, we must call for immediate action to prevent that clear harm to the health service.’
RCGP Wales chair Dr Rebecca Payne warned that Brexit may have a significant impact on healthcare services.
‘I urge candidates to protect the GP workforce in Wales during the Brexit negotiations and make it as easy as possible for doctors and other healthcare professionals from the EU to move to Wales and other parts of the UK.’
A report from Pulse publisher Cogora, published in March, found a majority of GPs worry that the number of staff working in practices will reduce after Brexit.
No guaranteeing EU doctors’ right to remain in the UK
Health minister David Mowat told the Pulse Live conference in March that the Department of Health is ‘unambiguous’ that GPs from the EU should be able to stay on after Brexit.
But Prime Minister Theresa May has refused to guarantee the right to remain of any EU citizens until all EU countries do the same with regards to UK citizens – and she has said the UK will leave the EU even if there is ‘no deal’
Meanwhile, NHS England is in the process of recruiting 500 GPs from Europe in a bid to hit the Government’s target of hiring 5,000 additional GPs by 2020.
This comes despite health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s pledge last year that the NHS will start relying more on ‘homegrown’ doctors.