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The UK formally left the EU on 31 January 2020, entering into a tense transition period during which a long-term trade relationship was negotiated. After much uncertainty, the two sides eventually struck a deal and the EU-UK trade and co-operation agreement took effect from 1 January 2021.

With this arrangement, free movement of labour between the UK and European Economic Area (EEA) countries came to an end and a new points-based system of immigration was introduced. However, the majority of health care professionals with an NHS job offer are exempted from the points-based system and can apply for a Health and Care Worker Visa. GPs with relevant European qualifications can also apply to the General Medical Council (GMC) for entry to the GP Register.

Despite concerns before Brexit, the new system is intended to streamline international recruitment into health care roles. Greater clarity over the arrangements should now boost efforts to recruit GPs from overseas.

GPs with relevant European qualifications can apply to register in the UK

Firstly, GPs coming from Europe to practice in the NHS will need to apply to the GMC for entry to the GP Register. From 1 January 2021, they will need a qualification awarded in the EEA or Switzerland that is classed as a relevant European qualification; they do not have to be a national of the EEA.

GMC guidance summarises the steps for GPs to follow:

Qualifications that are classed as relevant European qualifications will be recognised in the UK for two years from 1 January 2021. The UK government is now working with professional regulatory organisations to determine future registration arrangements from January 2023.

For qualifying Swiss applicants, the Citizens’ Rights Agreement signed by the UK and Switzerland means that the process will remain the same as before the transition period, until at least the end of 2024.

For queries about indemnity insurance for GPs working in the UK, please contact us at Medical Defense Society.

Next steps to practice as a GP in the NHS

The British Medical Association (BMA) offers advice about the step-by-step process to work in the NHS. After applying to join the GP register:

  • Apply to join the national performers list of approved GPs.
  • Register on the NHS GP induction and refresher scheme. This provides practical support and assessments such as placements and simulated surgeries.
  • Apply for a job. NHS Jobs is a useful place to start.

Qualified GPs from overseas need a Health and Care Worker Visa

Qualified health care workers arriving in the UK from 1 January 2021 need to obtain a Health and Care Worker Visa. This allows medical professionals with a job offer to come to the UK to work in the NHS or with an NHS supplier or in adult social care. Note that Irish nationals can continue to live and work in the UK without needing permission.

Workers from the EEA who arrived in the UK by 31 December 2020 can apply under the EU Settlement Scheme until 30 June 2021 to be granted pre-settled or settled status, depending on how long they have lived in the UK.

NHS Employers offers this guidance for employers seeking to recruit from Europe: Preparing for the end of the EU transition: workforce guide for employers.

European doctors in the NHS

The opportunity to work in the NHS remains a draw for international health workers seeking to join one of the world’s leading health care systems.

Despite the uncertainty around Brexit before the agreement, the proportion of NHS GPs trained in the EEA stabilised and retention was improving in the years up to 2020. About 5% of NHS staff reportedly came from EEA countries in 2020 – among GPs, the largest groups were from Ireland, Germany and Spain.

GMC chief executive Charlie Massey 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 must not 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.’

Our team of experts can help members who need advice about legal matters related to international recruitment, including indemnity insurance – please get in touch at Medical Defense Society.