• NHS England publishes guidance saying qualifications of GPs from the EU who qualify before 29 March 2019 will be recognised
  • The UK is set to exit the EU next March
  • Leaders could not clarify what the status would be of GPs qualifying after this date
  • One expert warned Brexit could “slow down” the international recruitment drive due to variation in medical qualifications around the world

The national drive to recruit 2,000 GPs from overseas may be “slowed down” as the qualifications of doctors from the EU may not be recognised after Brexit.

NHS England guidance, published this week, told GPs from Europe their qualifications will be recognised in the UK if they qualify before 29 March 2019, when the UK is set to exit the EU.

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NHS England aims to recruit 600 international GPs in 2018-19

However, neither the national commissioner nor the Department of Health and Social Care has been able to clarify whether their qualifications will be recognised after this date.

One expert warned the recruitment drive could be “slowed down” by Brexit due to “variation” in medical qualifications across the world, which may not be equivalent to UK training.

GP leaders have told HSJ they are concerned about the implications Brexit will have on recruitment and the “potential barriers” that could be in place from April 2019.

NHS England wants to recruit 2,000 GPs from overseas by 2020. In 2018-19 it aims to recruit up to 600 GPs.

The guidance, aimed at potential recruits, said: “The UK is in the process of withdrawing from the EU and a specific agreement has been made so that EU citizens living lawfully in the UK before 29 March 2019 will be able to stay and enjoy broadly the same rights and benefits as they do now…

“Any GP recruited under the international GP recruitment programme and working in the UK before 29 March 2019 will be able to stay and enjoy the same rights and benefits as now. GP qualifications of EU doctors will continue to be recognised if they were obtained before 29 March 2019.”

An expert with knowledge of the overseas recruitment process, who agreed to speak to HSJ anonymously, said “it will potentially be harder” to recruit GPs following Brexit and “is likely to slow [the recruitment drive] down” as prospective recruits will be processed as “international medical graduates rather than EU graduates”.

They added: “The EU entitles you to equivalent [medical] qualifications, for international [GPs] you would have to satisfy an English language test, you would then have to satisfy the General Medical Council’s assessment process, so it’s more laborious takes a little bit more time.

“The advantage of the EU is you can rely on the quality of their [GP] skills generally, if you go to India and the subcontinent you can rely on them to a certain extent, but the more peripheral they become the more difficult it is.

“Because of the variation and number of medical qualifications around the world, you have to have criteria and a base system to assess whether those people are competent or not. The EU gives you that through EURACT because you’ve already got that system where we have agreed commonality of training.”

EURACT – the European Academy of Teachers in General Practice – agrees standards for GP qualifications across the EU countries.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said it was “concerned about the implications of Brexit” on the recruitment of doctors from the EU.

She added the college welcomed the government’s commitment to seeking a continued system of recognition after Brexit and the NHS would need “certainty on the new arrangement as soon as possible”.

Richard Vautrey, chair of the British Medical Association’s GP committee said the union had “serious concerns” about the impact of Brexit on recruitment and retention of GPs in the UK.

He said: “The potential barriers that could be put in place in April 2019 will make this task all the harder and ultimately impact on practices ability to provide good patient care.”

A spokesman from Department of Health and Social Care said: “Overseas staff play a vital role in the NHS and we want to continue to attract those who bring significant benefits to the UK. The prime minister has been clear that we want UK professional qualifications to continue to be recognised across the EU in the future, and vice versa.

“Our recent agreement with the EU means that every EU citizen that lives in the UK - and their family - can remain here after Brexit. We are carefully considering the options for our future immigration system and will ensure it works in the best interests of the whole of the UK.”