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UK-trained GP advised she faces deportation for visiting family too often

A trainee GP who moved to the UK 10 years ago to complete medical school with a view to practising may be forced to leave the country in a matter of months thanks to Home Office red tape.

Under Government rules, foreign nationals who have been in the UK legally for 10 years may apply for indefinite leave to remain (ILR) in Britain, provided they meet certain criteria, including that they have not been outside the country for a total of more than 540 days over that 10-year period.

However, because the trainee GP – who does not wish to be named – spent most of her holidays as a student visiting her friends and family overseas, she has unwittingly crossed this threshold.

As a result, she may have to leave the UK when her visa, which is sponsored by her employer, expires in March. She is due to be awarded her Certificate of Completion of Training on 5 December.

But when she sought advice from immigration lawyers about her situation, she was advised she would be highly unlikely to be granted ILR because of time spent outside UK.

She told Pulse: ‘I feel a bit disheartened. I feel like I’m fighting to work in a system where I know there is a shortage of GPs.

‘I haven’t ever left training – I’ve gone from F1 into F2 into GP training, I’ve never had any extended sickness or time out. If I’ve left the country, it’s either been [between academic terms] or annual leave that I’m entitled to take.’

A significant proportion of her days overseas were accrued as a direct result of her role as a trainee GP, she added.

‘Sometimes when you do a week of nights in order to make your rota fit with the working time directive, you then get a week of zero days, which are in addition to your annual leave.’

The GP also spent several weeks abroad as part of an elective in her fourth year of medical school.

She said: ‘Technically my summer holidays were 83 days [that year], but I actually spent six weeks of that working in a hospital in India.

‘Part of me thinks: why should I fight to stay in a system that obviously needs me but can’t be bothered to make their tick boxes work?’

In response, a BMA spokesperson said: ‘As general practice sits in the depths of a recruitment and retention crisis, the Government must have a common-sense approach to immigration and put an end to bureaucratic barriers that prevent qualified doctors from positively contributing to the NHS.’

Dr Pete Deveson, a GP in Surrey, said: ‘Given the desperate state of the GP workforce it’s absolutely insane that we spend 10 years and thousands of pounds training up a GP only to kick her out for taking holidays as a student.’

And, in response to a post on Twitter by Dr Deveson, RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said the situation sounded ‘utterly bizarre’, requesting further details on the case.

Dr Deveson said: ‘I’m very grateful to Helen Stokes-Lampard for her prompt action in this case but why should the future of highly-skilled colleagues be dependent on special pleading of the great and the good on social media?’

It comes as, earlier this year, the Home Office pursued the deportation of GP trainee Dr Luke Ong on the basis of him filing his paperwork 18 days late. However the Home Office later dropped its legal appeal after mounting pressure from the profession and the general public.