We can help unlock workforce potential says GMC chief

The NHS has an extraordinary opportunity to shore up its depleted workforce by unleashing doctors’ potential, the Chief Executive of the doctors’ regulator has told healthcare leaders today.

Speaking at the General Medical Council’s annual conference, Charlie Massey said that while the NHS faced a number of workforce challenges the bigger issues ‘are around getting the most out of the doctors we have, and encouraging them to stay’.

Coronavirus has put healthcare services under extreme strain but the issue of how to meet current and future patient needs was not new, he told delegates at the Delivering change together conference.

Mr Massey pointed to specialty and associate specialists (SAS) and locally employed (LE) doctors, a growing part of the workforce who with more flexible legislation could be helped to work at the top of their game.

He said: ‘A large proportion of SAS doctors are international medical graduates (IMGs). Because of the prescriptive nature of current legislation, they have to overcome a series of bureaucratic hurdles in order to get on to the specialist register. This can mean assembling up to 2,000 pages of information and spending nine months gathering evidence.

‘We’ve been pushing for changes around this. So I was really pleased to hear Matt Hancock last week commit to legislative reform to give us more discretion in setting the rules around this process. Doing so will ensure that legislation does not create a glass ceiling, preventing doctors from progressing and fulfilling their potential.’

Cutting bureaucracy is particularly important as the composition of the workforce continues to change, Mr Massey told the conference. This year 61% of those joining the medical workforce were from BME backgrounds, compared to 44% in 2017.

‘And yet we know that these doctors will often have a very different experience of medicine than their white colleagues,’ said Mr Massey. ‘Our research tells us that BME doctors are twice as likely to be referred to the GMC by their employer than their white counterparts. They’re more likely to be treated as outsiders, and to find themselves working in isolated roles without adequate support.

‘We know what the issues are. Now is the time to act. There has never been a better opportunity to tackle the discrimination that still pervades medicine.’

Sustained effort is needed to embed positive changes from 2020, said Mr Massey, citing opportunities like the huge numbers of healthcare professionals who made themselves available to support the pandemic response. In March the GMC gave temporary emergency registration to around 30,000 doctors who had left the profession.

A recent survey of that cohort, which has an average age of 57, showed there remains significant interest in helping out the health service. In addition those who have already returned to practise the survey showed a further 3,000 doctors prepared to come back, and more than 1,800 saying they would consider returning to permanent registration.

‘Given the continuing challenges across our healthcare services, this creates a real opportunity to provide much needed resource both for the short and longer term. We are now sharing these insights and working with partners across the UK, so we can harness this willingness, and help enable more doctors to return,’ said Mr Massey.

The full text of Charlie Massey's speech delivered at the GMC’s three-day virtual conference, Delivering Change Together is available online.