More doctors are coming from Europe to work in the UK than ever, according to a report by the General Medical Council.
The largest source of overseas-trained doctors had previously been south Asia, but recently there has been a sharp rise in doctors from southern Europe.
The GMC believes this might have been caused partly by changes to immigration rules which have made it more difficult for doctors from outside Europe to work here.
The economic downturn in southern Europe and the expansion of the European Union in eastern Europe are likely to have fuelled a 19 per cent increase in European Economic Area (EEA) trained doctors seeking to practise in the UK from 2010 to 2013.
The population of EEA graduates grew by far more than that of UK graduates and international medical graduates (IMGs) over the three-year period. But EEA graduates were still only a tenth of all doctors in 2013, whereas IMGs represented a quarter.
The report said: “Once, the main source of non-UK graduates was south Asia, particularly India, and to some extent the Middle East and Africa. Now, a third of the increase in non-UK graduates are from southern European countries.
“We do not know all the reasons for these changes but some are already clear - after changes to immigration rules in 2010 it became harder for international medical graduates to secure training and employment here.
“The data suggests that the economic downturn in the European Economic Area and the increased opportunity for EEA graduates in the new member states to work in the UK following enlargements in 2004 and 2007 are the main reasons for the increase in the proportion of EEA graduates working here.”
The report also found that a common theme among doctors working in primary care was feeling “overloaded” and “at risk of burning out”.
Meanwhile there has been a significant increase in the number of women becoming surgeons and specialists in emergency medicine. The profession as a whole could soon have equal numbers of men and women - women already account for 44 per cent of all registered doctors (up from 42 per cent in 2010) and more than half of medical students are female.
Niall Dickson, chief executive of the GMC, said: “The face of medicine is changing and it is important that those responsible for workforce planning understand the implications. Of particular concern are the potential shortages in some specialist areas where there are diminishing numbers of doctors in postgraduate training and large numbers over the age of 50.
“Recruitment in some parts of the UK, especially deprived areas and more remote communities, is also a significant challenge.
“The work being done by some of the medical royal colleges and others to boost recruitment and retention in some specialties is welcome and demonstrates that these issues can be tackled. For example, a concerted effort by the College of Emergency Medicine has helped to boost the number of emergency medicine practitioners joining the specialist register by a third between 2010 and 2013.”
“It is notoriously difficult to predict future demand for doctors, but we do know that the needs of patients are changing, with many more living for years with long-term conditions. We know too that the next generation of professionals will have different expectations.
“We hope that this data from the GMC will help inform future decision making. The challenge for governments, educators and those who commission services must be to work together to make sure we have a medical workforce with the right skills and one which is adequately resourced, trained and supported to meet those needs.”