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Brexit casts doubt on efforts to give GPs same status as specialists

Exclusive A push by the major GP organisations to put general practice on the same footing as other specialties has been jeopardised by yesterday’s vote to leave the European Union, GP leaders have said. 

Pulse has learned that in the last week, the RCGP and BMA have committed to campaign for general practice to be counted as a medical specialty, and merge the two separate GMC lists for GPs and hospital doctors.

It followed a statement by European GP organisation UEMO that demanded all European countries recognise GPs as specialists, and pledged to bring in an EU directive to enforce this. 

GP leaders said such a move would allow GPs to work freely in other European countries, and would increase the standing of general practice and stop GPs from ’being second class citizens’ in medicine.

But they fear that their efforts will be hampered following the referendum committing the UK to severing ties with the EU.

The UK is one of only four states in Europe, alongside Austria, Switzerland and Italy, who do not recognise general practice as a ‘specialty’.

BMA members voted overwhelmingly in favour of an emergency motion at last week’s BMA ARM to reverse this and have general practice included on the specialty register.

Former GPC negotiator Dr Peter Holden is a member of the BMA’s delegation to UEMO, and told Pulse Brexit had thrown this into doubt following the co-operation between the BMA, RCGP and European organisations.

He said: ‘In those countries where general practice is a specialty, if you’re not on a specialist register you can’t practise. But the issue is also about parity of esteem, and GPs not being a second class citizen.’

He said that European Commission rules meant that if more than 40% of the EU nations request a certain directive, the commissioner has to act upon it.

Dr Holden said: ‘UEMO represents more than 40% of the nations of the EU, and the members backed this proposal unanimously.’

However, he added: ‘Obviously now the EU directive in 2017 won’t be an additional tool we can use.’ Though he said this would depend on the timescale for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

Proposing the motion at the ARM, GP and head of the UEMO delegation Dr Mary McCarthy said: ‘We are specialists in an essential and difficult field of practice, and we have great difficulty in recruiting other people to join us. Specialist recognition would raise the status of this branch of practice, and bring us into line with Europe.

‘It would aid the movement of GPs, and stop cases such one Nigerian who can’t practise in Nigeria because the UK doesn’t recognise him as a specialist.’

She added that as well as UEMO’s unanimous backing of the proposal ‘last weekend the RCGP council voted overwhelmingly to campaign for general practice to be recognised as a specialty in Europe’.

Pulse has reported that general practice has suffered a perception problem, with medical schools being accused of being ‘toxic’ and of ‘blatant bigotry’ towards GPs, and the RCGP and GPC have launched a joint investigation into medical school culture.