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Just one-quarter of doctors who left UK to work abroad are likely to return


By Jess Hacker
7 October 2021

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More than half (55%) of doctors who had left UK practice are still working in clinical roles abroad, a General Medical Council (GMC) survey has suggested, with just a quarter (24%) of them saying that they are likely to return.

The survey of more than 13,000 doctors, including GPs, who quit working in the UK between 2004 and 2019 – ahead of the first wave of the pandemic – found that of those likely to return in the future, the vast majority are still working clinically (93%).

By contrast, retired doctors in the UK ‘overwhelmingly’ do not want to return (94%), with only 1.3% showing ‘some likelihood’ to return, said the GMC.

The regulator warned that this shows ‘there are large numbers of working age doctors making the decision to stop practising in this country, many of whom are working clinically abroad instead’.

The survey results come after a decade of decline in GP retention, with a recent study indicating the proportion of practices having high turnover almost doubled from 14% in 2009, to 27% in 2019.

The pandemic is known to have further worsened wellbeing and levels of burnout among NHS staff.

GP-leavers less likely to return

GPs were also far less likely to return to work when compared to other doctors, the GMC also highlighted.

Its survey indicted that only 9% of GPs were likely to re-enter the workforce, compared with 25% of specialists, 32% of trainees and 35% of ‘other’.

This is likely related to the fact that a greater proportion of GPs left due to retirement than other roles, it said.

Doctors were asked to select and rank factors which played a part in their decision to leave, with over a third (36%) citing dissatisfaction, 27% reporting burnout, and bullying given as a reason by 5.5% of respondents.

It added that disabled doctors were more likely to report bullying as a more important factor in why they left, while LGBTQ+ doctors more commonly reported mental health issues.

Charlie Massey, chief executive of the GMC said the report sheds a ‘fascinating and important light on the reasons doctors leave and what might be preventing them from returning’.

He added: ‘It’s clear that there’s no panacea. But improvements in areas like induction and information could also make a big difference in encouraging more doctors to return to practise.’

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