The GMC is setting up a temporary test centre next spring, so it can test more doctors from overseas during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Its existing clinical testing centre in Manchester has capacity to test 11,000 doctors per year, but current social distancing measures mean that only around 7,000 are able to be tested.
As a result, its new centre will allow an additional 4,000 doctors to be tested next year, helping to restore its ‘pre-pandemic capacity’.
This week, the regulatory body told doctors that its PLAB2 exams, which test the skills of those who qualified overseas, will be continuing despite the nationwide lockdown that commenced today (5 November).
The existing centre, which opened last August, had to close for four months this year due to the virus, but it is claimed that the upcoming premises will be ‘Covid-secure’.
It will use space at the GMC’s Manchester offices, which are not currently being used by staff as they work from home.
Chief executive Charlie Massey said: ‘The need for the valuable skills and experience that overseas doctors provide cannot be overestimated.
‘At present we cannot safely increase the capacity of our existing assessment centre due to social distancing, but we need to support the demand of the NHS during these extraordinary times, while also supporting the desire of overseas doctors to practise in the UK.
‘Creating a temporary centre at our existing office is the most time and cost-efficient option that will allow us to continue to assess whether those doctors wanting to work here can meet the high standards we require and that patients expect.’
Addressing PLAB2 examiners and invigilators this week, head of assessment Richard Hankins said: ‘As a major source of medical workforce PLAB supports the vital healthcare sector. We have concluded it is, therefore, within the spirit of the new lockdown for PLAB 2 to continue.’
However, he noted that hotel closures and travel restrictions in the city may have an effect.
Yesterday (4 November), clinical assessment centre team coordinator Daniel Glenn also responded to ‘concerns raised regarding hotels being able to confirm that our examiners have a reason for staying overnight in Manchester for the PLAB 2 assessment’.
He said: ‘We have received a number of requests for a letter that can be presented on arrival at hotels during the nationwide lockdown, that confirms the reason for travelling during this period.
‘I have uploaded a letter to GMC Connect that you can present to the hotel on arrival should this be requested.’
Last month, GP examiners and representative bodies told Pulse of their ‘surprise’ and ‘concern’ that the face-to-face PLAB2 exams were still going ahead in lockdown-hit Manchester.