Concerns have been raised by GPs suspicious that new proposals to boost the number of doctors in the UK will result in doctors on the register who did not successfully complete their GP training.
Health Education England (HEE) has announced changes to its rules that would allow people who had previously been unsuccessful at medical school to re-enter the programme and have another go.
Professor Simon Gregory, from HEE has said: “We are very grateful to the many people and organisations that responded to our consultation.
“The resulting amended proposals which we publish today offer a number of routes to support doctors to enter and successfully complete GP training whilst maintaining the gold standard of MRCGP as exit criteria.
“In particular, this would help doctors who are progressing in training but not able to do so sufficiently in the time allowed.”
The new rules will allow students to take their exams up to six times instead of the four attempts currently offered. Also students will be allowed six extra months to take the exams.
This news has come in the very same week that NHS England explained its plans to widen its international recruitment process to bring in more doctors from outside the UK.
However some doctors are sceptical that failed doctors will be allowed to practice through a loophole. Allaying these fears, Helen Stokes-Lampard from the Royal College of GPs (RCGP) that worked with the HEE on the new proposals, had this to say: “The college’s number one priority is, and always will be, patient safety.
“General practice is under intense resource and workforce pressures, and we desperately need more family doctors practising in the UK, but not through the back door, and not at the expense of the trust and confidence patients have in their GP.”
Roughly 250 people could be eligible to re-enter the training programme which could be a boon as the UK scrambles to find more doctors to fill positions. Ms Stokes-Lampard went on to say: “Compared to the thousands more GPs we need in the workforce, this is a modest number and it is important that we do not generate false hope for these ‘targeted’ candidates, as these proposed new measures would not guarantee their success,” Stokes-Lampard added.
“The MRCGP assessment is a world-renowned, robust – and fair and lawful – exam that ensures GP trainees have all the skills necessary to go on to practise independently as a family doctors in all four nations of the UK, and in doing so, it keeps our patients safe.
“Making changes to the assessment process is something we are open to – indeed, we have commissioned our own independent review of the MRCGP, which is currently underway. But change should not be taken lightly – and must be in the context of patient safety and evidence, not meeting targets.”
Regarding the doctors from overseas, NHS England is reviewing procedures to find ways to “streamline” the process of recruitment. Currently doctors coming to work in the UK from having worked within the European Union do not undergo further checks and their qualifications are immediately accepted.
The Royal College of GPs, which has warned of changes that may affect patient safety, will be consulted by the General Medical Council before relaxing checks for doctors coming from outside the European Union.
A spokesperson from Patient Concern, Joyce Robbins, has commented on the news: “We do need more GPs, but not at the expense of patient safety.
“Streamlining is all right proving it is improving the hiring process, but not if they are dumbing down the entry criteria.” She also warned against giving failed GPs too many bites of the apple.
“Instead, we should be discouraging our brightest young medics from going abroad.”