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Omicron blocks thousands of overseas doctors joining NHS

Published on: 6 Jan 2022

Thousands of overseas-qualified doctors wanting to work in the UK will be delayed after the General Medical Council cancelled exams due to the surge in covid cases.

The regulator said its decision to pause professional and linguistic assessment board tests, scheduled for January and February, was made “in direct response” to the current omicron wave. Up to 54 doctors would have been needed each per day as examiners, it said, alongside a “large number of role players and staff”.

It comes as overseas recruitment is seen by government and national officials as a crucial way to boost NHS staffing, including GPs.

Director of registration Una Lane said: “We are deeply disappointed to have to cancel exams at this time, but given the pressures on the NHS and the impact on examiner availability, it was the only viable option.”

The decision was made on 22 December – which the GMC said gave the candidates “as much notice as possible” – but has now been highlighted, and criticised, by the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin. 

More than 2,600 overseas medics were due to take the tests in January and February.

However, more than 1,000 of the doctors have already rescheduled their exams for the summer, meaning the process of them taking up roles in the UK will be delayed for at least six months.

The GMC said it was intending to “reopen on a limited basis in February so that we can prioritise those candidates already in the UK or with a job offer or place in training”.

Medical school graduates from outside the UK, the European Economic Area or Switzerland must pass the tests, known as PLABs, to demonstrate they can perform the same way a foundation year two doctor can, and in order to register with the GMC.

BAPIO said they, alongside other “diaspora organisations”, have expressed concerns to the GMC and formed a network of support for overseas doctors “while the matter is being resolved”.

Its president JS Bamrah said: “This sort of action by the GMC only serves to give the wrong perception to migrant doctors in this country, as well as those who intend to come and serve in the NHS.”

The GMC has said it has asked all candidates who are already in the UK, or who have a job offer, to get in touch with details of their circumstances and their visa expiry date.

Ms Lane also said the regulator still expected to offer 15,000 places on PLAB 2 tests this year and had registered more than 12,000 doctors from outside the UK in 2021.