Red tape is holding up recruitment of overseas doctors, GMC warns

Author: Ingrid Torjesen

Outdated legislation is preventing much-needed senior doctors from working in the UK, Charlie Massey, chief executive of the General Medical Council (GMC) warned in a speech to the Westminster Health Forum earlier this week.

He said urgent action was needed to cut red tape and address the restrictive legal framework the medical regulator is bound by, at a time when the NHS is so short of doctors.

Doctors from outside Europe are legally required to provide up to 2,000 pages of evidence to the GMC before they are allowed to work as an NHS GP or consultant – a process that can take more than nine months. In recent years far too few doctors, including just a handful of GPs, have been able to complete the process before coming to the UK.

In his speech Mr Massey called on the UK government to urgently reform the rules and reduce the administrative burden on doctors.

‘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,” he said. “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 European Economic Area joined via the relevant specialist registration route and were able to practise at a senior level immediately.”

The process needed to be made more flexible, he said. “That doesn’t mean a reduction in standards, simply a change to 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 to support patients in need.’

Mr Massey also called for legislative reform to remove the current requirement for the GMC to investigate every allegation about a doctor, so that it can channel more resources into preventing doctors making mistakes.

The GMC now receives in excess of 7,000 complaints annually – a huge increase on the 350 it received when the Medical Act was passed more than 30 years ago.

“The result is that we spend the bulk of our time processing complaints – the majority of which come to nothing – rather than focusing our resources on stopping doctors getting into difficulty in the first place,” Mr Massey said. “Legislative reform would allow us to be much more proportionate and precise, so we could prioritise the areas of greatest concern.”

He added that reforming outdated regulation would ultimately benefit patient care.

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