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Brexit the ‘one thing’ slowing down international GP recruitment

Exclusive Brexit is the ‘one thing’ slowing down international GP recruitment, according to one of recrutiment agencies targeting overseas doctors as part of the NHS England scheme. 

Head Medical, an agency approved by NHS Employers to carry out the international GP recruitment drive, has told Pulse that ‘the fear of the unknown’ from Brexit has been putting off overseas doctors from coming to work in the NHS.

The international recruitment scheme, which originally launched in April 2016 with the aim of recruiting 500 GPs from abroad by 2020, was relaunched in August 2017 with a target of recruting 2,000-3,000 GPs by 2020. 

Commercial director of Head Medical Nicky Gray stated that though not all doctors are delaying their decision to come to the UK, it was ‘definitely the one thing putting people off at the moment.’

Jo Wood, who heads up the international recruitment programme at Head Medical said there was still interest from international doctors who want to work for the NHS, but it was dropping.

She said: ‘We have certainly seen a drop in direct applications and a number of candidates we speak to still have an interest in coming to the UK and working with the NHS, but have decided to hold off on progressing until after Brexit due to uncertainty.

‘The NHS remains a real draw for international candidates – having the opportunity to work within one of the world’s leading healthcare systems is often their primary reason for wanting to make a move to the UK. I believe once there is a more stable political environment doctors will feel confident again in pressing ahead with their plans to make a move here.’

A spokesperson from Blugibbon, a medical recruitment agency based in Australia, said the Brexit-related uncertainty was even disenfranchising returning Brits from Australia.

They said: ‘Certainly, it’s slowing down if not stopping completely. The uncertainty in the UK is feeding down to colleges, the immigration department and to the GMC. The doctors get the feeling they are not wanted, even returning Brits who have been in Australia for a few years don’t feel welcome. The NHS directors and practices are at breaking point and need good doctors however the process to get the doctors in the UK is broken.’

Figures from the GMC show: 

  • The number of applications granted their first registration fell amongst graduates from the European Economic Area (EEA) in 2017, following the 2016 referendum, with 2,166 in 2016 and 2,075 in 2017. 
  • In 2018, however, the number of EEA applications increased to 2,135.
  • GMC registration by international medical graduates (IMG) has increased year by year since 2015. In 2017, 4,183 applications were granted, and last year, the GMC had 5,980 registrations.
  • However, NHS Digital figures showed only 2 GPs were recruited from an EU country in the first half of 2018, and 4 from a non-EU country.

The GMC said there had been an ‘unusual’ surge in applications from Maltese graduates. Papers from an executive board meeting in April confirmed that the Malta Medical Association had been advising members to apply for GMC registration ‘in advance of Brexit.’

Earlier in February, NHS England told Pulse it had recruited more than 70 doctors to the international GP recruitment programme since it started. 

BMA GP committee executive team lead for workforce Dr Krishna Kasaraneni said the news that doctors overseas were reconsidering coming to the UK was ‘not surprising’.

He said: ‘With Brexit looming on the horizon, EU doctors may be feeling less welcome and that the UK is becoming a less attractive place to work for them. And amid continued uncertainty about future immigration arrangements, it would not be surprising if doctors are reconsidering coming to the UK to work.

‘It is therefore more important than ever that government departments work together to remove unnecessary bureaucratic barriers to recruitment if they want to have a tangible effect on the GP and wider healthcare workforce.’

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘EU doctors play a vital role across the health and care system and we want them to stay long after the UK leaves the EU. 

‘There are over 5,200 more EU nationals since the 2016 referendum employed in trusts and CCGs, including over 700 more EU doctors.’

In February, Pulse learned CCGs were halving their targets to recruit overseas doctors to the ‘disappointing’ international recruitment scheme.


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