European doctor numbers grow steadily amid Brexit transition

European doctors continue to play a significant role in UK medicine with more joining the register and fewer leaving last year.

The General Medical Council’s latest data report on doctors who qualified in the European Economic Area (EEA) shows 2,268 joined the register in the year to 30 June 2020, representing a 7.5% increase on the previous year. This trend was matched with a reduction in EEA-qualified doctors leaving the register, with a year-on-year decrease of 7.4 per cent.

The mix of EEA doctors joining the register has also changed in recent years, with greater numbers moving from Central, Eastern Europe and Baltic countries. But doctors from the Republic of Ireland are still the largest group in the cohort, accounting for 14 per cent of all EEA qualified doctors on the register.

There are currently about 2,724 EEA-qualified doctors in British training programmes, representing five percent of all general practice trainees (572) six per cent of paediatric and psychiatry trainees (214 and 81 respectively) and 26 per cent of all occupational medicine trainees (seven).

The report comes as new guidance from the Department of Health and Social Care explains how doctors who qualify in the European Economic Area (EEA) will be able to join the register after the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December 2020.

The new system, in place from 1 January 2021, will be based on place of qualification rather than the doctor’s nationality. This means that doctors with a relevant qualification from the EEA will have those qualifications recognised for registration – but subject to that evidence being independently verified.

Charlie Massey, Chief Executive of the GMC said:

‘We’re grateful to the thousands of European and international doctors who choose to live and work in the UK and make a huge difference for patients.

‘Despite uncertainty over the UK’s future relationship with the EU, we have observed steady growth in recent years. But we mustn’t be complacent as the long-term impact of both Brexit and the pandemic on travel and decisions to emigrate and settle in the UK remain largely unknown.

‘We welcome the department’s guidance and the clarity it provides doctors who wish to join our register in the new year. As a regulator, we’ll keep doing all we can to support the flow of doctors into the UK as well as the retention of those already here and we will continue to lobby for legislative changes that make that possible.’