UK is a less attractive place to work, GMC warns, as reliance on overseas doctors increases

Authors: Abi Rimmer 

Publication date:  19 Dec 2017

Some specialties have increased their reliance on doctors from overseas, a report by the General Medical Council has said.

However, it warned that the UK risks becoming a less attractive place for overseas doctors to work, with 6000 fewer non-UK graduates on its register in 2017 compared with six years ago.

These were two of four warning signs that stood out in 2017, said the GMC in its State of Medical Education and Practice report, published on 19 December.[1]

The report said that emergency medicine, general medicine, and paediatrics had all seen increases of more than 20% in the number of non-UK qualified doctors working in the specialty between 2012 and 2017. These increases were mainly driven by overseas recruitment drives.

“The specialties with the highest reliance on non-UK graduates are obstetrics and gynaecology (55%), ophthalmology (48%), and paediatrics (46%), while psychiatry and pathology have more than 40% of their doctors drawn from this cohort,” the report said.

The regulator warned that the medical profession would be put under increased strain if the number of doctors from the European Economic Area leaving the UK—as a result of the vote to leave the European Union—suddenly increased.[2]

The GMC also warned that the supply of new doctors into the UK medical workforce had not kept pace with changes in demand. The number of doctors taking up a licence to practise had remained relatively static between 2012 and 2017, at around 13 000 a year.

The GMC said that the lack of growth in doctors’ numbers was worrying because the demands placed on them were continuing to rise. “Over the next two decades the total number of people aged 65 and over is estimated to grow by nearly 50%, which amounts to around 6 million people,” the report said.

The regulator also warned that the strain on doctors training and being trained continued and that these pressures could affect doctors’ physical and mental wellbeing, the quality of medical training, and patient care.

Commenting on the report, Charlie Massey, chief executive of the GMC, said that the medical profession was at a “crunch point.” “The decisions that we make over the next five years will determine whether it can meet these extra demands,” Massey said.

He added, “The pressure on our health services shows no signs of letting up. It’s on all of us to understand why doctors are making different choices about their lives and careers.”

The BMA welcomed the report and said that it reflected many of its own concerns. Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the BMA, said, “As the research notes, the UK is reliant on doctors from abroad, and Brexit could compound difficulties recruiting and retaining these staff.

“Despite pledges from the government to protect European doctors already working in Britain, the tangible effect of the referendum result on the lives of EU nationals is beginning to become clear, with our own research showing that a fifth of EEA doctors have made solid plans to leave the country since last June.”

Jane Dacre, chair of the Royal College of Physicians, said: “We share the report’s concern about the low numbers of doctors in some specialties. Following our census, we are particularly concerned about geriatric medicine and acute internal medicine.”

She added, “The fact that our population is ageing rapidly, with individuals often having many complex diseases, there needs to be incentives to encourage many more of our physicians into these specialties, especially in parts of the UK where skilled medical professionals are particularly scarce.”


  1. General Medical Council. The state of medical education and practice in the UK. 2017. [Link]
  2. Rimmer A. GMC warns of “state of unease” in medical profession. BMJ  2016;355:i5804. [Link]   [Link] .

Abi Rimmer The BMJ

Cite this as BMJ Careers ; doi: