Visa rules for trainee GPs need urgent reform

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<span>Photograph: Lynne Cameron/PA</span>
Photograph: Lynne Cameron/PA

At a time when we’re woefully short of GPs, it beggars belief that new recruits are potentially being blocked from working by bureaucratic visa rules (NHS risks losing GPs to ‘nonsensical’ immigration rules, Priti Patel told, 18 May).

The BMA has consistently called for reforms to the currrent system, whereby international GPs who complete their training in the UK after three years are unable to get a visa and work in a GP practice unless it has registered as a licensed sponsor. Only after five years’ residence in the UK do graduates receive indefinite leave to remain, meaning a visa is unnecessary.

With around 40% of all GP trainees estimated to be international medical graduates, and bureaucratic barriers discouraging practices from becoming sponsors, this potentially means a significant number of newly qualified doctors who could be providing care to thousands of patients are unable to do so. For some, this will mean taking jobs elsewhere in the NHS, but others will choose to leave the country, which will not only deprive patients of care, but also be a waste of the taxpayer money spent training them.

There are a number of simple solutions to this. For example, sponsorship could be moved to an umbrella body with overarching responsibility – meaning newly qualified GPs could work at any practice, or the five-year residence rule could be reduced to three years in recognition of the desperate need to increase the workforce.

The government has an opportunity to harness the skills of a significant number of doctors to deliver the care that patients so desperately need.
Dr Euan Strachan-Orr
Chair, GP trainees committee, British Medical Association

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