Moving to the UK - Securing a job in the NHS - What you need to know

It’s no secret that the UK has a shortage of healthcare skills. For many years, healthcare practices in both the public and private sector have been recruiting talent from across the globe, and many have testified to the benefits of a highly skilled and culturally diverse healthcare workforce.

But with Brexit just around the corner, many throughout the UK’s valued healthcare workforce have expressed concern about what the future may hold for their careers. We talk to Ricky Alfred, Search Medical Divisional Manager who oversaw Search’s recent recruitment campaign in Greece, to find out what the impact of Brexit could be, and why he thinks bringing in skills from overseas is absolutely crucial for our healthcare system!

Brexit and the overseas healthcare workforce

According to recent statistics by, 12 percent of the NHS staff is from the UK, but a significant minority are from other countries, including 5.5 percent (approximately 60,000) who are nationals from other EU countries. Currently, 6.8 percent of healthcare workers are from countries outside the EU. Following the vote to leave the European Union, there have been concerns that even if the residency status of EU nationals working in the NHS is confirmed, it could become more difficult to retain staff and attract new recruits from EU countries, at a time when services are already under pressure.

“Given that there is a larger percentage of non EEA healthcare workers currently employed in the NHS than there are from the EU, it is unlikely that Brexit will result in EU healthcare professionals being barred from entering the UK. As a healthcare recruiter, it is my job to offer a reassuring consultation service to candidates who may be hesitant to pursue a career in the UK due to the uncertainty surrounding Brexit,” Ricky observes.

The government currently has an occupational shortage list, whereby provisions are given to employers who choose to hire individuals from outside the EU based on their skills. “Given that nearly every profession within the healthcare sector is on the occupational shortage list, I don’t see how an exit from the EU would result in skilled healthcare workers being banned from bringing their valuable and highly sought after skills into the UK,” says Ricky.

The occupational shortage list and Tier 2 employment

A non EEA International Medical Graduate seeking to work as a doctor in the UK has to satisfy both immigration requirements and requirements for registration with the General Medical Council (GMC), the latter governed by law in the 1983 Medical Act. These two are separate processes.

An application for Tier 2 (general visa) in the UK requires a specific job offer and Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) from an employer or training board/deanery that demonstrates that the employer has not been able to find a UK or EEA national or UK permanent resident who can undertake the job (i.e. satisfies the Resident Labour Market) or that the job is included in the Occupational Shortage List. The CoS applies to this job only; if a new job is sought, another CoS is required from the new employer. There is at present a cap on the number of Tier 2 visas that can be held, but this limit does not apply to shortage occupations.

Furthermore, the applicant has to meet the points criteria: attributes, maintenance funds, English language competence. For registration by the GMC, English language proficiency is demonstrated by a minimum overall score of 7.5 in speaking, listening, writing and reading on the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) with a minimum score of 7.0 in each area. Exceptions may apply to applicants who come from English speaking countries/have done relevant examinations in English.

To demonstrate the relevant skills competence to obtain GMC registration, first of all the overseas applicant needs to have a primary medical qualification and have completed work experience or an internship of at least 12 months equivalent to the UK post-medical school Foundation Year 1 (FH01). In addition, he or she has to prove ‘objective evidence’ of knowledge and skills to work as a doctor in the UK by passing the Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board (PLAB) test. Although the first part of the test can be taken in some source countries, the second clinical part needs to be taken in the UK, for which the applicant can obtain a business visitor visa which will remain valid for up to 6 months. A UK or postgraduate qualification recognised by the GMC can take the place of the PLAB test result. As is the case of UK medical practitioners, entry into the specialist or GP register requires assessment of eligibility by the GMC.

The Tier 2 (general) visa is valid for up to 3 years initially. At the end of a continuous 5 year period on the visa, non EEA doctors can apply for permanent residency. New applicants with a CoS that is valid for longer than 3 years can apply for a 5 year visa and settlement after that. Settlement criteria currently include a £35,000 salary threshold and a language and ‘life in the UK’ test.

Tier 2 migrant workers are allowed to be accompanied by spouses/partners and dependent children under age 18 subject to a minimum maintenance funds requirement. While spouses have leave to work in the UK, they are not allowed by the immigration rules to undertake employment as a doctor or dentist in training unless they have a degree in medicine or dentistry from a UK or UK recognised institution or not previously restricted in being employed as a doctor or dentist.

The benefits of a diverse workforce

A healthcare practice that boasts a diverse workforce is one of the most important building blocks in the foundation of an effective and patient-focused service. “A culturally diverse healthcare team enables a broad range of opinions and talents to be used and shared collectively, and this in turn has a positive impact on patient care,” says Ricky.

Cultural diversity has long been shown to enhance service delivery and customer satisfaction, which ultimately benefits any organisation. “Diversity creates a personal understanding and experience of different cultures, which in turn enables team members to positively engage with their colleagues, patients and service users,” says Ricky, who continues, “It also means that a practice’s workforce can cater to a broad range of needs and individuals, whether it be through the ability to speak different languages, fully appreciate the needs of individuals from certain cultural or religious backgrounds, or understand certain needs/issues that may arise with age or residency.”

When considering access to healthcare it is important to both respect and be sensitive to the cultural and religious and obligations that patients and service users may have. “Through having a diverse healthcare workforce there are undoubtedly more opportunities for certain cultural and social needs of a wide range of diverse patients to be met and respected with the rights of all individuals being upheld,” says Ricky.

Join the UK's healthcare workforce!

Search Medical is a specialist in guiding our workers through some of the most important issues surrounding the profession. If you have any questions regarding a move to the UK, please contact Ricky Alfred on [email protected]. Alternatively, you can have a look at our comprehensive list of medical vacancies here!

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