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GMC issues workforce warning in case of ‘no-deal’ Brexit

Brexit uncertainty threatens a sufficient supply of doctors in the NHS at a time when the profession is at a ‘critical juncture’, the GMC has warned.

This comes as a GMC survey found nearly two in five GPs (38%) are planning to leave UK clinical practice in the next three years, while over a quarter (28%) are planning to go part time or reduce their hours.

The warning is contained within the GMC’s annual The state of medical education and practice in the UK report.

The report called for ‘clarity’ from the UK Government on how EEA-qualified doctors – who currently make up 9% of UK-licenced doctors – will join the medical register after Brexit so that systems can be put in place.

The report said: ‘The UK needs to continue to make the EEA graduates who are already here, and want to stay and develop their career in the UK feel welcome.

‘There must be routes onto the register for EEA graduates in the future, so the UK can continue to benefit from a flow of doctors into the UK. We have written to Brexit ministers on this and we will continue to engage with them.’

The GMC has also proposed solutions to ensure supply and retention of doctors in the NHS long-term plan, which is expected to be published this month. 

These include increasing capacity at testing centres for the rise in international doctors wishing to sit the two-part test of skills and language needed to work in the UK.

The report said: ‘As well as setting a compelling vision for the next 10 years, these strategies must also address clear and present dangers, such as the potential cliff edge of a no-deal Brexit and some of the workplace culture issues…

‘The status of EEA qualified doctors already registered in the UK is guaranteed. But it is crucial that in whatever scenario we face after March 2019, the tap is not turned off in enabling EEA doctors to come and work in the UK in future.’

GMC chair Professor Sir Terence Stephenson said: ‘Doctors are telling us clearly that the strain that the system is under is having a direct effect on them, and on their plans to continue working in that system…

‘There are different challenges in each of the four countries of the UK but the NHS is at a critical juncture; without a long-term UK-wide plan to ensure it has a workforce with the right skills in the right places and without the right support, doctors will come under even greater strain.’

BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘This report echoes our continued warnings on the scale of the workforce crisis facing the NHS, and should serve as a wake-up call to the Government, policymakers and health bosses as to what we can expect from the future…

‘It is positive to see the GMC recognising the pressures doctors are under, noting that the profession is on the brink of “breaking point”, and laying out ways to begin addressing this.

‘There must be a UK-wide approach to tackling the workforce crisis and the underlying system pressures that are compounding the retention of highly-skilled doctors.’

Results from the GMC’s survey of UK doctors

In the next three years:

  • A third of all doctors (32%) are planning to leave clinical practice in the UK (38% of GPs)
  • A fifth (21%) of doctors are considering reducing their hours (28% of GPs);
  • A further fifth of doctors plan to leave the UK to work abroad as a result of heavy workloads.

Meanwhile, in the past year a quarter (25%) of doctors felt unable to cope with their workload at least once a week, and two fifths (40%) at least once a month.

Source: GMC-commissoned survey of 2,602 UK doctors