More than 5,000 doctors who have emigrated or chosen to take early retirement are unable to return to the GP workforce as a result of ‘red tape’, the RCGP has claimed.
The college has identified 5,229 GPs under the age of 50 who have left general practice in the past five years, including more than 3,000 GPs under the age of 40.
But it says that these doctors are unable to return to general practice even if they wanted to as a result of rules governing the eligibility of GPs to practise in the UK being interpreted in a ‘bureaucratic’ way.
This is effectively ‘disbarring’ them from the GP workforce and exacerbating the crisis in general practice, the college claims.
It comes after the GP taskforce report recommended a fully funded returners programme, while Pulse revealed that around 5,000 doctors a year were considering moving abroad to practise.
The college, along with the BMA, has written to NHS England calling for the regulations of the performers list to be applied with more flexibility in a bid to remove barriers for GPs wanting to return to practise in the UK.
Earlier in year, the RCGP held talks with NHS England over the possibility of allowing GPs to remain on the performers list to tackle the GP recruitment crisis – proposing that GPs could have their annual appraisal while in another country, possibly via Skype.
According to the RCGP, during the last five years for which figures are available, 5,229 GPs under 50 left the GP workforce – 3151 of them under 40.
Both the RCGP and the BMA have said that while they accept that checks need to be carried out to ensure GPs remain competent to treat patients in the UK, they are concerned that the current rules are effectively stopping thousands of trained GPs from treating patients.
The college highlighted the case of Dr Dave Berger, who had been practising abroad for two years and told in a letter from NHS England that he would be removed from the performers list because he had not completed at least one clinical session in England during the previous 18 months and would need to complete the returner’s scheme assessment and associated training.
RCGP chair Dr Maureen Baker said it is ‘nonsensical’ that GPs are being blocked by red tape in the midst of a recruitment crisis.
Dr Baker said: ‘It seems nonsensical that at a time when we have a chronic shortage of GPs and patients are having to wait longer and longer for a GP appointment that we have a ready-made taskforce of GPs who are being effectively barred from caring for patients because of red tape and an arcane set of rules.’
‘The inflexible way in which these rules are being interpreted is even more short sighted when a large number of the doctors affected have been working in medical settings abroad so their clinical skills are up to date, and many say that the care they can provide to patients has improved as a result of their experiences.’
She said that such an interpretation of the rules is harming patient care.
She added: ‘We understand that NHS England have their job to do and it is imperative that doctors’ skills are relevant and fit for purpose, but we cannot allow bureaucracy to get in the way of common sense – especially when there are consequences for our patients.’
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the BMA’s GP committee, added: ‘To help begin to tackle this crisis, the BMA is calling on NHS England and Health Education England to fully implement the recent GP Taskforce recommendations calling for a fully funded returner programme, prioritising the funding for GP returners to train in under-doctored areas.’
‘This will help get competent GPs who have taken a short career break to get back into the workforce, particularly those who have taken time out to bring up a family.’