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Government to ease red tape for Australian GPs to work in the NHS

GPs qualified in Australia will be able to go through a ‘streamlined’ process to certify their eligibility to practise in the UK.

The GMC and RCGP have reviewed the curriculum, training and assessment processes for GPs trained outside the EEA, beginning with Australia, to see whether the Certificate of Eligibility for GP Registration can be simplified for doctors whose training is seen as equivalent to the UK GP programme.

If the streamlined registration process is successful for Australian GPs, they will look at expanding it to other countries with similar GP training.

NHS England said this was related to the programme to bring in 2,000 GPs from overseas, which it said last year would have an early focus on Australia, New Zeeland and the EU.

The news comes as new NHS Digital data revealed a severe worsening of the GP workforce situation for the start of 2018. 

The data, published yesterday, showed that over 500 full-time equivalent GPs left the English workforce between March and June this year, pushing the Government even further from its target to recruit an extra 5,000 GPs by 2020.

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ‘Some initial scoping has been completed, looking at the same in other countries, to see how aligned they are with the UK system, and to see if the process for attaining CEGPR can be streamlined for any GPs who wish to come and work in UK general practice, whilst ensuring that patient safety is paramount.’

She added that the college ‘has always been a supporter of [NHS England’s] plans to recruit overseas doctors to work in NHS general practice to help achieve this target’.

GMC director for registration Una Lane said: ‘At the moment the processes can be burdensome, with doctors who have qualified overseas required to provide large bundles of documents to demonstrate that they have the necessary skills and experience to practise as GPs in the UK. We don’t want this process to deter good doctors who can make a valuable contribution to the NHS.

‘By streamlining the process and cutting red tape we can make sure doctors with high-quality overseas qualifications can register to practise here as quickly as possible, while maintaining the high standards patients expect and need from their GPs.’

She added: ‘We are now in a position to offer a streamlined application process for GPs who have qualified in Australia and who wish to practise in the UK. If successful, the process may be rolled out to other overseas countries that offer similar high-quality training.’

An NHS England spokesperson said: ‘The NHS is pulling out all the stops to recruit as many highly talented international GPs as we can, aiming for up to 2,000 depending on the number of qualified individuals available and practices wanting to hire.

‘We’ve started in Europe and will now be widening the range of countries involved.’

They added that overseas recruitment was just one facet of the work it is doing towards boosting GP numbers, also including investment in GP retention, returners and recruitment.

But Dr Krishna Kasaraneni, the BMA GP Committee’s workforce lead, said: ‘There are still too many barriers for GPs who trained overseas to work in the NHS in England. Whilst it is encouraging to see NHS England taking this seriously to address some of these barriers, it is absolutely crucial to address the fundamental issues with GP workload and funding to actually keep GPs in the workforce.

‘Years of underinvestment in GP services has led to the workforce crisis we are currently in and we need the Government to address this immediately to address the workforce problems and to incentivise GPs to remain and return to the workforce.’

The overseas GP recruitment programme

The overseas recruitment programme was launched in 2016, with an initial target to bring over 500 GPs. The target was bolstered significantly last year, when NHS England said it wanted to recruit 2,000 overseas GPs. 

However, despite this, Pulse revealed earlier this year that just 85 GPs were in post as a result of the programme in April this year. NHS England had said 100 international GPs would be recruited by the end of March, and GP leaders said the figures were ‘disappointingly low’.

International GPs recruited on to the overseas programme are put on to induction and refresher scheme, which finishes with placements in practices of up to six months.

Lincolnshire first implemented an international recruitment scheme in 2016 to address a local recruitment crisis, ahead of a wider role out by NHS England to 11 areas announced in August 2017.