Recruiting GPs overseas is good, but doesn’t provide long-term solution

As part of the Government’s drive to recruit more doctors, they have this week launched a new pilot to recruit more doctors from overseas.

Though a positive initiative, given that the release of the latest GP workforce figures shows barely an increase of one per cent in the number of GPs recruited, it is a mere drop on the ocean taking into consideration the extra five thousand promised by the government.

This will of course alleviate some of the pressure on GP practices who are struggling to keep up with the increasing demand. However, this is only a short-term solution.

With a recent BMA poll found that a third of GP practices had vacancies unfilled for more than a year, we need to work on creating a sustainable workforce that will commit to developing their career within the NHS and look at ways we can attract more homegrown doctors to practice.

Whilst the expertise of international doctors is highly valued in the NHS, the role of a GP in England can vary from that in different countries. Family doctors in the UK deal with patients from infancy until end of life, as opposed to some countries where GPs do not see children under a certain age, some as old as 16.

Ante-natal or post-natal care for example are handled by doctors in the UK but in other countries they may be referred automatically to hospital specialists.

In Shropshire, 80 per cent of diabetic patients have their care managed by their GP whilst in most of Europe, the majority of diabetic patients are only seen in hospital clinics.

Whilst we of course welcome doctors from overseas to general practice, this does not go far enough to really address the recruitment and retention crisis we have within the UK.

Too many GPs are quitting the profession owing to the overworked and underfunded environment they are expected to work in, while medical graduates are turning their backs on a career in general practice for the same reasons.

It is disappointing that once again the latest official figures show only a marginal increase in the GP workforce in England despite repeated promises by politicians that patients would be seeing thousands more GPs trained in the UK delivering care in the NHS.

It is also ironic that many doctors from the EU have said they would consider leaving the NHS in light of Brexit, yet the Government are in a position where they are having to recruit from overseas.

The situation is such now however that practice up and down the country are having to close their doors as the recruitment and funding crisis have left them unable to stay afloat.

More needs to be done by the government to create a sustainable, long term solution that can remedy the huge workforce problems threatening to overwhelm GP services across the country.

This is of vital importance if general practice as we know it is to survive.

* Dr Mary McCarthy is chair of the local medical committee and represents Shropshire, North Staffordshire and South Staffordshire on the General Practitioners Committee of the BMA. She has worked at Belvidere Surgery in Shrewsbury for more than 20 years.

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