Most new doctors are now trained abroad, GMC reveals

19 Mar 2019 By Lauren R Brown

Medical watchdog’s figures raise further concerns over NHS staffing in run-up to Brexit 

Britain is now importing more doctors than it trains, statistics from the General Medical Council have revealed. 

According to the medical watchdog, more than half (53 per cent) of those joining the UK’s medical register last year had trained overseas, up from 39 per cent in 2015. 

In 2018, a total of 7,186 doctors who trained at UK medical schools joined the medical register compared to 8,115 who joined after training abroad. It marks the first time since 2006 that British doctors have been outnumbered by those from overseas.

Una Lane, director of registration and revalidation at the GMC, said: “Doctors with qualifications from overseas make a vital contribution to UK health services and they have been doing so for many years. The NHS is reliant on this population of doctors to deliver high quality care to patients across the UK every day of the week.”

Concerns around the future of NHS staffing have increased in the run-up to Brexit, with an estimated 11,000 vacancies across NHS England currently unfilled. Statistics released last year by the King’s Fund, the Nuffield Trust and the Health Foundation predicted the staffing crisis in the NHS was deepening so fast the service could be short of 350,000 key personnel by 2030. That would mean one in six of all NHS posts would be unfilled.

Earlier this month, the government announced non-EEA citizens coming to the UK to work as nurses, paramedics and medical radiographers would be exempt from Tier 2 visa regulations following concerns that the initial £30,000 limit would lead to a post-Brexit staffing crisis in schools and hospitals.

Immigration minister Caroline Nokes said the exemptions were introduced “so that the NHS can continue to attract and hire experienced teachers, nurses and paramedics from overseas”.

But some commentators were concerned by the latest figures. Cancer surgeon J Meirion Thomas, a frequent critic of NHS workforce planning, said the trend was a “recipe for absolute disaster”. 

The Telegraph reported that, speaking at a conference in London, Thomas said: “I think there is a moral issue here. We are poaching doctors from abroad and have done for decades. They are coming from countries where they have been trained at public expense and where they are sorely needed.”

Separately, the GMC today announced it would be asking junior doctors for the first time what impact workplace facilities were having on their training, following reports of low morale.  

Professor Colin Melville, the GMC’s medical director and director of education and standards, said: “We know that heavy workloads, rota gaps and the pressures of busy health services can take a toll on training, but these extra questions will help us understand what other factors have an impact as well.”

The new questions, which will be put to 54,000 doctors in training, will ask about workplace rest and catering facilities, transport home after shifts and even the provision of wifi, to explore the impact these factors can have on training.

“A weak wifi signal, the lack of a suitable rest room or access to food and drink while at work, particularly when working long hours, can really affect the ability of trainees to learn and trainers to teach,” added Melville.

According to a survey conducted by the Health Service Journal last year, one in four junior doctors suffered from burnout and one in three were “exhausted” in the morning at the thought of another shift.

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