All medical graduates will need to take a new exam devised by the GMC to get on to the medical register, the regulator has announced today.
The ‘passport to practice’ will be taken by all trainees across the UK, including GPs, who wish to practise in the UK, including both UK graduates and overseas doctors.
The GMC will begin to consider the content of the exam in June 2015 in conjunction with the Medical Schools Council, Health Education England and Education Scotland as well as doctors, patients, employers and educators among others, though there is no indication as yet to when the exam will begin.
The GPC has said the plans are ‘ridiculous’ and ‘will not add anything’.
It will replace the current Professional & Linguistics Assessment Board (PLAB) exam for international medical graduates, but college exams will remain.
The GMC says that the exam will be designed to ‘give patients assurance about the competence and quality of those treating them, regardless of where they received their training’.
Niall Dickson, chief executive of the GMC, said: ‘This is the start of a process that, if we get it right, will create a level playing field for entry into medicine in the UK.
‘There is plenty of detail to be worked out, but today we begin discussions about how to develop a single “passport to practise”.’
He added that it is unlikely that the GMC will be able to enforce this on doctors who come from the European Economic Area because of rules regarding free movement of trade.
However, he added: ‘We would certainly like to see a situation where doctors from Europe themselves would wish to demonstrate that they are meeting the required standards by sitting the exam. The fact that a doctor has passed the national exam would almost certainly be noted on his or her entry on the medical register for everyone to see.’
But Dr Beth McCarron-Nash, a GPC negotiator and a GP in Cornwall, said the plans were ‘ridiculous’ and indicated that the GMC was trying to make itself ‘as unpopular as possible’.
She added: ‘You are either qualified to be a doctor or you are not. To bring in yet another load of exams after graduates have passed their finals just makes it ever more difficult to become a doctor.
‘The GMC needs to look at its remit to support professionalism and doctors and I am not sure what this will add. I see some of the concerns with standardisation for international medical graduates, but until we get detail, I am not sure what this will add. I am yet to be convinced.’
Harrison Carter, co-chair of the BMA’s Medical Students Committee, said: ‘This proposal could successfully provide equal opportunities for those entering into medicine in the UK and could work to reassure patients that those treating them, regardless of where they have trained, are competent and able.
‘However we must ensure that medical students are not subjected to excessive examinations which could distract them from essential medical training.’
However, international doctors leaders welcomed the news.
Dr Ramesh Mehta, president of the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin, said: This is brilliant news. BAPIO has been asking for a single national licensing examination for UK as well as international medical graduates for a long time. This will reconfirm the competence of IMGs and challenge those who are in habit of denigrating IMGs. I hope there is no prolonged gestation period.’
It comes after the GMC earlier this year indicated that international medical graduates could face a higher bar to work in the UK after GMC-commissioned research concluded the assessment that allows them to practise medicine in this country may be too lenient.
The research – published in the BMJ – found that graduates of PLAB had poorer clinical knowledge and skills than UK graduates on average, according to their performance in the MRCGP exam.