8 October 2018
UK recruitment drive could disrupt our GP workforce
A UK recruitment campaign targeting Australia to help cover a shortfall of 5000 GPs in the next few years could disrupt plans to fix Australia’s own workforce problems, senior doctors say.
In the campaign, aimed at specifically Australian GPs, NHS England is offering incentives worth up to $34,000 and says it has slashed the application processing time from about a year to three months.
The AMA described the move as a “wake-up call” to the federal government after years of neglecting GP funding.
“We cannot afford to lose our GPs to other countries like the UK,” Dr Richard Kidd, chair of the AMA’s council of general practice said.
“Australia has its own workforce shortages in general practice, particularly in rural and remote Australia.”
Dr Adam Coltzau, president of the Rural Doctors Association of Australia, said the UK was turning the tables after years of watching Australia poach their doctors to solve its workforce shortages.
“We have been targeting their doctors, and now they are getting their own back. Australian doctors are up there with the best in the world,” he said.
Australian GPs lured to the UK would likely be younger doctors of the age group that policy planners wanted to see settle outside the cities to address disparities in healthcare, he added.
“It is a competitive market, and we are not only now competing against the cities for doctors, but also internationally,” the Queensland GP said.
“It’s definitely going to affect rural Australia if people take up that offer.”
ACRRM President Dr Ruth Stewart said the government was investing in training Australian GPs but needed to do more in top-up strategies.
“If we want them to stay in the areas where we need them, we are going to have to encourage them with strong and supportive programs. This offer from the UK government underlines that.”
RACGP President-elect Dr Harry Nespolon said he doubted the reported NHS target of 2000 Australian doctors could be met.
“The biggest issue from my point of view is the demographics,” he said.
“We’re not talking about when I graduated, in my 20s, and going to spend a year or two in the UK would be great. Nowadays, when GPs graduate from training, they are in their early or mid 30s, and most have families and are established in life.”
The $34,000 incentive would barely cover the cost of moving a family across the world, and working conditions and pay prospects under the NHS were relatively poor, he added.
“Unless someone is going there purely for professional experience, I cannot see them getting 2000 people.”
The UK set its sights on Australia after failing to make progress on its GP recruitment goal set in 2015 to add 5000 full-time equivalent GPs. In fact, the FTE workforce has slid back by 1400.
NHS England said a new streamlined application process would be aided by an international recruitment agency. Dedicated staff at the Royal College of General Practitioners and the General Medical Council would also help applicants.
The issue was highlighted at the UK college’s annual conference last week.
UK Health Secretary Nigel Hancock told the conference the government still aimed to meet the 5000 target by bringing the “best and brightest” doctors from around the world as well as lifting numbers of locally trained GPs.
RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said Australia was the first country to be evaluated for the recruitment drive “because we know their training and experience is similar to that of the UK and that there are doctors wanting to come to the UK, but it has always been a challenging process for them”.
“It’s no secret the NHS needs to recruit more GPs, so it makes sense to head to Australia where doctors’ skills, training and high levels of care closely match those of their British counterparts,” NHS England’s director of primary care delivery Dominic Hardy, said.