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12.10.17

Add GPs to shortage occupation list, urges RCGP

Barriers must be broken down to allow overseas GPs to work in the UK, the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) has announced.

The RCGP chair, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, has written to home secretary, Amber Rudd, calling for urgent action for GPs to be added to the Migrations Advisory Committee’s shortage occupation list in order to tackle the shortage of doctors in the UK.

Currently, the shortage occupation list includes healthcare professionals such as nurses, radiographers and psychiatrists, as well as ballet dancers, animators and orchestra musicians, but GPs are not included.

Last year patients were unable to make an appointment with their GP or practice nurse on 47.5 million occasions, according to the royal college’s analysis of the last GP Patient Survey in July.

In the letter, Prof Stokes-Lampard told the home secretary: “The public’s healthcare needs have continued to grow over the last few years, but recruitment of the general practice workforce has not been sufficient to meet demand.

“Clear goals have been set to increase the GP workforce, as outlined in the GP Forward View for England, and similar aims across the UK.”

She expressed concern that the government’s goal of 5,000 more GPs in England by 2020 is “unlikely to be met without an urgent re-think of the plan.”

NHS England’s drive to recruit at least 2,000 GPs from overseas is likely to place more strain on the current visa application system.

GPs who originate from overseas but are trained in the UK also face hurdles in applying for Indefinite Leave to Remain due to speciality GP training being only three years – shorter than the minimum of five.

Prof Stokes-Lampard gave real-life examples of the frustrations experienced by GPs who wish to practice in the UK, including one from South East Asia who was trained in Scotland and had a job offer in England. She was told by the Home Office that it could take up to 18 weeks to extend her visa, by which time it would have expired.

Her letter said: “The situation on the ground is probably worse than official estimates, as posts may be being filled by locus in the short term, or where the vacancies are not being advertised as the practices know from experience they are unlikely to get a strong enough field of candidates.

“With a high number of GPs set to retire in the next few years, the future of general practice is a serious concern. We need to do everything possible to make the process for GPs entering the UK workforce as simple and straightforward as possible.”

This is not the first time the RCGP has called for GPs to be added to the shortage occupation list – it was a key ask in its manifesto prior to the general election. It has also asked for assurances from the EU that GPs will have their status protected during Brexit negotiations.

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