“Did you know about one in seven of our specialists are from EEA countries?”

Paul Buckley, the GMC’s Director of Strategy and Communication, reflects on our latest data on EEA doctors.

Though the UK’s health system is often ranked among the world’s best, we know it wouldn’t be nearly as robust without the significant contributions of EEA trained doctors.

Our latest report, released today, reveals that EEA graduates still make up nearly a tenth (9.1%) of our licensed doctor cohort.

They account for around a seventh (14%) of all specialists, a fifth (19.2%) of all surgeons, a quarter (24.5%) of all ophthalmologists and five percent of all GPs.

The latest figures have shown no substantial change in joiner rate, in fact the number of EEA graduate registrations increased marginally from 2,048 in 2016 to 2,057 in 2017.

By contrast, the introduction in June 2014 of our new English language powers saw the number of licensed joiners drop by nearly 30 percent between 2014 and 2015. While registrations increased, requirements introduced in June 2014 meant that EEA graduates could not automatically receive their licence to practise without demonstrating proficient English skills.

While the new data is reassuring, our survey of EEA doctors practising in the UK from earlier this year makes sobering reading.

Sixty percent of the over 2,000 respondents said they were thinking of leaving the UK in future with 45 percent of those respondents considering a move within the next two years. That figure is worrying but should be interpreted with some caution as EEA doctors have always been a highly mobile and more transient population in the UK.

Preparing for change in an uncertain landscape

While the GMC has no position on the merits of Brexit, we do have a contribution to make especially in terms of making data available and drawing attention to any changes in the makeup of the medical workforce that could have implications for patient care.

That said, it’s important to note that the move could bring about opportunities to make a positive change for patients, depending on the eventual outcome of the UK’s negotiations with the EU.

Presently and apart from language ability, there is no way for us to assess the professional skills and capabilities of EEA doctors despite varied training requirements across the EU.

For instance, trainee anaesthetists must undertake a seven-year programme in the UK but can become specialists after just three years in Latvia. GPs who train in Italy do little pre or postnatal care but in the UK it’s a staple. This underlines the fact that doctors moving to another country to practise are likely to need support to acclimatise – that’s why we developed our Welcome to UK practice programme and why we want to encourage more doctors to experience it in the future.

And current legislation does not make it easy for doctors who wish to swap specialties during their training. We’d like to change that, and it’s one of the many reasons our outdated legislation needs a fundamental overhaul. We hope the Government’s consultation on the future of professional regulation will help bring about the changes we need.

Regardless of negotiation outcomes, we’ll continue to work with EU regulators after Brexit because sharing data and information on best practice will always play an important role in patient protection.

We know that one of the best things we can do is to support and sustain our existing medical workforce and to ensure there are no unnecessary barriers in the way of good doctors from anywhere in the world – including the EEA – who want to work in the UK.