Up to two thirds of the GP workforce qualified outside the UK in some CCG areas, and more than one in 10 qualified in in other EEA countries, official NHS data indicates.
The figures, which show the extent of NHS reliance on overseas doctors in primary care, come as health secretary Jeremy Hunt prepares to set out plans to make the health service ‘self-sufficient’ for doctors.
In his speech at the Conservative party conference, Hunt unveiled plans to expand medical training places and cut NHS dependence on doctors recruited from abroad, along with a four-year mandatory term of NHS service for medical graduates in England.
“Currently a quarter of our doctors come from overseas. They do a fantastic job and we have been clear that we want EU nationals who are already here to be able to stay post-Brexit. But is it right to import doctors from poorer countries that need them whilst turning away bright home graduates desperate to study medicine?”
Hunt believes that his plans will make the NHS self-sufficient for doctors by the end of the next parliament.
But there is no doubt that overseas and EU-trained doctors play a critical role in the NHS.
In NHS Barking and Dagenham, London, just over 66% of GPs were trained outside the UK.
In 14 out of England’s 209 CCGs, more than half of GPs trained outside the UK, and nationally more than one in five GPs were not UK-trained.
The NHS workforce data show that 21.3% of GPs in England trained outside the UK. Of 30,336 GPs whose country of qualification was known, 1,296 qualified outside the UK but in the EEA, while 5,178 qualified outside the EEA.
Hunt’s conference speech follows comments in a Mail on Sunday interview in which he said that Brexit could offer a chance for the NHS to cut back its reliance on doctors recruited from outside the UK.
“Quitting the EU will throw into sharp relief the number of doctors, nurses and healthcare assistants we need to import every year in order to sustain our health system. I think people will ask whether it is right when we are turning away bright British youngsters from medical school – who might get three A-stars [at A-level] but still can’t get in – at the same time we are importing people from all over the world. I think it’s a debate we need to have,” Hunt commented.
In a blog earlier this year, GMC chairman Professor Sir Terence Stephenson wrote that leaving the EU should not have any impact on doctors already on the register.
But the GMC and the government are yet to clarify how EU doctors who wish to work in the UK will be affected in future.