Completing the picture report

What were the key findings?

  • The reasons for leaving UK practice are varied, often without a single deciding factor. While many doctors leave for personal reasons such as retirement, or returning to their home country, others leave for more negative pressures including bullying, dissatisfaction or burnout. 
  • The types of doctors stopping practising in the UK seem to reflect the changing demographic patterns of the UK medical workforce over time. However, higher proportions of doctors with disabilities and those with EEA primary medical qualifications seem to have left UK practice.
  • Doctors with specific characteristics are also more likely to be leaving for negative reasons: for example, disabled doctors are more likely to report bullying as a more important factor in why they left and LGBTQ+ doctors more commonly reported mental health issues. 
  • A third (35%) of doctors surveyed wanted to return to practise, but only 23% thought it likely that they would. However, for the majority (59%) we can be confident they will not return, as they said they are both unlikely and unwilling to return.
  • Of those that are likely to return just 10% are currently in the UK, while the remaining 90% are currently abroad, the vast majority of whom are currently working clinically (93%). By comparison retired doctors in the UK overwhelmingly do not want to return (94%), with only 1.3% showing some likelihood to return.
  • A relatively small pool of countries account for a very large proportion of doctors moving abroad (eg 1/6 going to Australia and 1/15 going to New Zealand), despite a very small proportion of doctors having originally come from those countries.
  • GPs showed particularly high levels of burnout and are also less likely to return than other doctors. Only 9% of GPs are likely to return compared to 25% of specialists and 32% of trainees.
  • The barriers to returning are similar to the reasons for leaving, but also include some specific barriers where action might be taken to reduce them, such as lack of induction or being unsure where to find information.

Why did we carry out this research?

We conducted this research to gain insight into doctors who were previously practising in the UK but who are not currently doing so – in terms of their characteristics/motivations and their likelihood to return to clinical practice in the UK.

This overall aim was further expanded into five specific research questions, which the research sought to address.

  1. What are the key demographic characteristics of doctors who have left UK practice?
  2. What are the key motivators and issues causing doctors to leave UK practice?
  3. Of those doctors who have left UK practice who/how many are likely to return?
  4. What are the barriers and enablers to return to UK practice?
  5. Would a formalised return programme encourage their return?

What did the research involve?

13,158 doctors completed an online survey. These were all doctors who had previously practised in the UK, longer than three months ago, but less than 15 years ago, but who were not doing so at the point of completing the survey.

They could however have been practising abroad. All respondents completed the survey between the 21 January 2020 and 10 March 2020, of which 87% had completed by the 3 March.

Full report

Completing the picture report

Completing the picture report methods and data annex