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Add GPs to the shortage occupation list, Royal College urges government

‘Prioritise human beings and common sense over policy and process’ says RCGP chair

Caroline White

Wednesday, 06 June 2018

The Royal College of GPs has urged home secretary Sajid Javid to act quickly to overhaul immigration rules and allow appropriately trained doctors to work as UK GPs in the NHS.

In a letter sent to the home secretary before the weekend, College chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard outlined the intense resource pressures facing general practice and the barriers preventing the recruitment of overseas GPs.

She warned that the government's target of attracting 5,000 more GPs by 2020 was looking "increasingly difficult to achieve."

She urged the home secretary to “put human beings and common sense over policy and process.”

In the letter, Professor Stokes-Lampard highlights the restrictive policies which are preventing appropriately trained doctors from practising in the UK at a time of severe GP shortages.

She calls for GPs to be added to the Migration Advisory Committee's Shortage Occupation List. Currently, the number of GPs moving to the UK to work is restricted by the overall cap on migrants, and the fact that a Resident Labour Market Test must be carried out for vacancies, despite clear workforce shortages across the UK.

She also wants urgent action to be taken to cut the amount of red tape and heavy financial costs that are preventing GP practices from employing the GPs they desperately need.

At the weekend, Mr Javid said he would review the visa caps for doctors, including the 'Tier 2' policy that directly affects the eligibility of GPs to work in the UK.

The College's letter emphasises the desperate need for more GPs to be able to work in the UK so that patients can continue to receive care in their local communities.

Over one million patients in the UK see their GP every day but the College says the profession is caught in a “pincer movement” of GPs retiring early and insufficient numbers of students choosing general practice training who can take their place.

In the letter, Professor Stokes-Lampard profiles two real-life examples, as well as the case of Dr Luke Ong, a GP trainee who was threatened with deportation in March.

The first, a Syrian medical student from Aleppo who is soon to complete his family medicine training in Beirut. He has passed the necessary language qualifications and taken the GP training ranking exam, in which he did very well, and has been offered a training post in the UK. But he was denied a visa by the Home Office because GPs are not on the Shortage Occupation List.

The second case concerned a Canadian citizen coming to the end of his GP training in Manchester. His Tier 2 visa will expire at the end of his training, but whilst he wants to practise in the NHS, he is struggling to apply for a job that is able to sponsor him as many GP practices face difficulties offering Tier 2 sponsorship.

The first example flies in the face of a response the College received from the former minister of state for immigration, Brandon Lewis, in December last year, following previous calls for GPs to be added to the Shortage Occupation List, in which he suggested the move was unnecessary as any GP could be sponsored via the Tier 2 route where they are needed.

The second example highlights the barriers that GP practices face in their ability to recruit and employ overseas GPs, such as having to satisfy the Resident Labour Market Test before they are eligible to offer Tier 2 sponsorship.

Professor Stokes-Lampard also highlights an additional hurdle facing GP trainees from overseas who want to practise here once they have completed training in the UK.

She writes: "Most doctors in other medical specialities already meet the five-year criteria for application [for Indefinite Leave to Remain] by the time they finish speciality training in the UK. However, as GP training is just three years, they cannot apply for [this] until they have been in the UK for a further two years. This means that application for Tier 2 sponsorship is often their only option.

"It is clear from recent media reports that the public support the relaxing of immigration rules for people wanting to come from overseas to live in the UK to work in the NHS.”

She concludes: "We need an immigration system that puts human beings and common sense over policy and process, and works in the best interests of the British public."

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