• Overseas doctors must provide 2,000 pages of evidence before practising in the UK, says GMC chief
  • Just 10 GPs or consultants from outside EEA took up senior roles upon arrival last year
  • Charlie Massey says more regulatory “flexibility” needed

The General Medical Council has called for urgent action to “cut the red tape” around the recruitment of overseas doctors.

Charlie Massey

Charlie Massey

In a speech to the Westminster Health Forum earlier this week, GMC chief Charlie Massey said doctors from outside the European Economic Area were forced through a lengthy process to practise in the UK. This could take up to nine months and require the provision of up to 2,000 pages of evidence, he added.

More “responsive” laws were required to address the fact “far too few doctors, including just a handful of GPs” have completed the process in recent years, Mr Massey said.

He added: “The UK continues to be a popular destination for international medical graduates. Last year, for the first time, we saw more graduates joining the workforce from overseas than coming out of UK medical schools.

“But while we expect up to 10,000 overseas doctors to join the register this year, last year, only 10 GPs or consultants from outside the EEA joined via the relevant specialist registration route and were able to practise at a senior level immediately.

“We need more flexibility. That doesn’t mean a reduction in standards, simply a change in legislation to give us more discretion for determining how senior international doctors can demonstrate their knowledge and skills.

“That could increase the rate at which senior doctors join the workforce, meaning more practitioners support patients in need.”

The NHS is currently facing problems with staff shortages, including a decline in GPs. Analysis by the Nuffield Trust last May revealed the number of GPs per 100,000 people in England has decreased from 64 in 2014 down to 58 in 2018, after reaching a peak of 66 in 2009.

Overseas recruitment has a major role to play in addressing this issue. It is expected to feature in the upcoming People Plan, while a recently released “toolkit”, commissioned by the Department of Health and Social Care and produced by NHS Employers along with NHS England, called on trusts to work together to increase the “efficiency and scale” of international recruitment.

GMC ‘spends too much time on complaints’

Mr Massey also said the GMC spends too much time processing complaints, “the majority of which come to nothing”, rather than preventing doctors from encountering problems in the first place.

The medical regulator has said it receives in excess of 7,000 complaints each year.

He added: “Legislative reform would allow us to be much more proportionate and precise, so we could prioritise the areas of greatest concern.

“The limits of regulation are now being stretched. Instead of red tape, we need responsive regulation.

“With sensible changes to that legislative underpin to what we do, we are confident that we can do much more to support doctors, so they can focus on delivering first-class patient care.”