In 2013 I resigned from my GP partnership of 23 years and headed to Australia with my family for a new job at the Golden Beach Medical Centre in Queensland. I was fed up with the way the NHS was heading and was looking for a new challenge. I had a four-year visa, and the plan was to see if it could be extended until the end of my career.
My wife and I weren’t sure at first if we had made the right decision for our family and whether we would cope with the demands of living and working in a place where we had no friends or relatives. Luckily, moving to Australia turned out to be a great experience professionally and I really enjoyed learning new ways of doing general practice. Working abroad is something that I would thoroughly recommend.
Returning was hard
The one aspect of practice in Australia that really impressed me was the access and availability of radiological investigations, which are not hospital based. What a different world it is where you can request a CT or MRI and see the patient the next day with the result.
Family reasons brought me back to the UK but making the decision to return was really hard. We had invested so much energy in our new lives and there was a lot to give up – friendships, the outdoor living and the work. In the time since I left, things have not been getting any better for NHS GPs. There is a real recruitment crisis now, and the proposed returners’ scheme will not be enough to attract ex-NHS GPs. The authorities should recognise the experience and skills gained as a GP working abroad and not place additional requirements and restrictions on those who wish to return.
But there are things I missed about the NHS. The continuity of care it offers patients is very much undervalued and the presence of a lifetime NHS record is a great asset. True, I am still trying to understand the changes to the QOF and the new care planning schemes. But UK general practice remains a good career.
We had an amazing experience in Australia and I have no regrets about moving abroad. Nevertheless, I’m now committed to my work in Cornwall and honestly, it’s great to be back.
Everyone in my family now feels closer to one another.
Dr Mark McCartney is a GP in Cornwall