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Stricter rules will deter GPs from working in Australia, say recruitment agencies

Major changes affecting overseas doctors, which could see UK GPs paying over £10,000 to practise in Australia, will stop UK GPs from considering emigrating, medical recruitment agencies have said.

From September, UK GPs applying for an RACGP fellowship will be required to complete all fellowship exams, be supervised and complete ‘satisfactory’ workplace-based assessments, the Royal Australian College of GPs (RACGP) has said.

It follows a change announced in March, whereby the Australian Government required overseas-trained GPs to have a Health Workforce Certificate for the location they wanted to work in to ensure there was a ‘genuine need’ to fill a primary care position. It comes as Australia faces a potential oversupply of around 7,000 medical practitioners by 2030, according to the Australian Government. 

Medical recruitment agencies said both restrictions will have a detrimental impact on the number of UK GPs wishing to work in Australia, with one warning they could pay ‘up to $20,000’ AUS (around £11,215) as part of the application process. 

However, the RACGP said: ‘The costings of the new pathway have not yet been released, however they are expected to be broadly similar to the cost of the current specialist recognition programme’. 

Under current rules, most UK GPs who want to work in Australia are granted up-front ‘fellowship ad eudum gradum’ – a degree of equivalence – by the RACGP, meaning they do not need to pass exams.

From September, applicants whose qualifications are substantially comparable to Australian qualifications will pay up to $4,625 AUS (£2,594), and those with only partially comparable qualifications and who have to take exams pay up to $13,865 AUS (£7,776). 

The new practice experience program will replace the existing specialist recognition programme from 1 September, and will mean UK GPs will have to work in Australia first to prove their standards match Australian-trained specialists. 

RACGP censor-in-chief Dr Kaye Atkinson said: ‘Currently, all specialist international medical graduates (SIMGs), which includes UK-trained GPs, have their skills, training – including assessment methodology – experience and recent general experience practice compared to that of an Australian-trained GP.

‘The majority of UK-trained GPs with recent experience in general practice have been found substantially comparable. Substantially comparable international medical graduates are not required to undertake the RACGP fellowship examinations before the fellowship of the RACGP is awarded.’

She added: ‘To comply with changes required by the Australian Government, from 1 September there will be changes to the requirements for international GPs seeking RACGP Fellowship and to the support educational support services available to them.

‘As part of the increased support, substantially comparable GPs arriving in Australia will take part in a six-month program designed to assist the SIMG to meet Australian independent general practitioner status at RACGP fellowship standard. Throughout the six months, GPs will participate in education activities as they transition to Australian general practice and become accustomed to cultural and clinical approaches specific to the Australian environment.’

Guy Hazel, managing director of medical recruitment company Austmedics, said the changes will ‘stop GPs from considering Australia’ as a place to work. 

He said: ‘As of March 2019, overseas trained GPs, who require an employer sponsored visa, must obtain a Workforce Certificate for the location they wish to work in. The implication for UK GPs is the only approved areas are likely to be much more rural than previously was the case. In most instances these approved areas will be a minimum of two hours from the capital cities. 

‘After the 31 August 2019 [GPs] will have to complete all the RACGP fellowship exams, be supervised and complete work-based assessments. The overall cost will be up to $20,000 [around £11,149].

‘Clearly these changes effectively stop UK GPs from considering Australia as a escape from the NHS unless they are really determined.’

Echoing his comments, Paul Brooks, who runs UK-based international medical recruitment agency EU Health Staff Ltd, said: ‘This new program is much more restrictive – overseas trained GPs, ie UK and Irish GPs, will need to work under supervision for 12 months and in a rural area (Modified Monash Model 2 or greater). The rural area side of things is quite restrictive as it means GPs are likely to be at least one hour – more likely two to four hours – from one of the major cities.

‘There are, however, quite a few smaller cities / towns in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland which qualify, and we do have vacancies in these areas.’

The Australian Government said it hoped the initiative launched in March would reduce the number of doctors by around 200 per year, over a period of four years. 

It follows moves by the UK Government to increase the number of Australian GPs coming to work in the UK. Earlier this year, NHS England launched a campaign to promote working in the NHS which hoped to lure Australian GPs to the UK. The campaign highlighted England’s cultural ‘treasures’ such as premier league football clubs and Shakespeare as incentives. 

Last year, a new ‘streamlined’ registration process was also launched for Australian GPs to certify their eligibility to work in the UK

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