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Migration body blocks attempts to solve GP shortage problems through recruiting from abroad

A migration advisory group has blocked attempts to include general practice on a list of professions to be preferentially recruited from abroad, claiming that plans already in place to incentivise medical students to become GPs would address current shortfalls.

GPs were not included in the recommended additions to Shortage Occupation List (SOL) – which recommends areas where migration from outside the European Economic Area could address skill shortages – after a review by an advisory committee published today.

Evidence from the DH suggested that GP shortages were partly due to medical students passing over general practice to seek ‘more exciting roles’ in the NHS, as well as regional working preferences and changes to the working patterns of the current GP workforce.

Pulse recently revealed that the number of applications for GP training places nationwide had fallen for the second year in a row, and last year 12% of available GP training places remained unfilled.

Pulse also revealed that NHS England was already taking out adverts in Australian medical journals in a bid to entice back GPs who had emigrated.

But the report by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) states that there is no shortage of medical students, and that the DH has already initiated a plan to incentivise medical students to opt for GP training – as part of a raft of measures for addressing GP recruitment and retention announced last month.

It adds that including GPs on the SOL list would depend on the outcome of these initiatives.

The report says: ‘For GPs, there is a long-term issue caused by three separate factors. First, a failure to attract sufficient trainees: the Department of Health (DH) told us that medical graduates seek more exciting roles in the healthcare system. Second, difficulties attracting GPs to some geographic areas of the UK, especially as the present stock retire. Third, work-life balance issues caused by the increased feminisation of the workforce and the shift towards salaried rather than partner GP positions.

‘DH have identified a requirement of 3,280 GP trainees per year. Presently they are falling short by some 400. We were not told of any overall shortage of students flowing through our medical schools. Therefore any shortage of GPs can be addressed by changing the incentive structure such that the GP route becomes more attractive relative to the hospital consultant route.

‘The DH has initiated such a plan. Therefore, rather than immediately putting GPs on the SOL, we suggest waiting and evaluating the success of this DH initiative.’

Commenting on the decision, RCGP chair Dr Maureen Baker said: ‘We are pleased that the Migration Access Committee has drawn attention to the chronic shortage of family doctors in the UK, but we are disappointed at its lack of action to rectify the problem by unlocking the potential of skilled medical professionals in the many countries that have similar health systems to ours.’

Chair of the MAC, Professor Sir David Metcalf, said: ‘We recognise that there is a shortfall in the numbers of GPs being trained but consider that the solution to this is in the hands of the health service.’

Please note – this article originally stated that the DH had blocked attempts to include GPs on the Shortage Occupation List. This was not the case. The article was changed at 11:15 on 26 February 2015.

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