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30 June 2023

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How can our practice sponsor a GP from abroad to fill a vacancy?

A recruitment specialist offers help to a practice finding it tough to hire a GP and is now looking for candidates from outside the UK

Question from Management in Practice reader:

Like most other GP practices in the country, we are struggling to fill our permanent roles and we just aren’t getting any applicants from UK candidates despite having tried for over 12 months.

We discovered from a neighbouring practice that sponsoring a GP from abroad has worked for them and we’d like to give it a try but we have no idea how to go about it, what the process is, what the benefits are as well as the pitfalls and what costs we’d be looking at.

Answer from Ash Higgs, MD of MCG Healthcare:

Organisations can hire skilled workers such as doctors under the Skilled Worker Visa scheme. To do this, your practice would need to apply to become a Skilled Worker visa sponsor (this has replaced what was known as Tier 2 sponsorship).

The good news is if you are a practice that struggles to recruit, Tier 2 sponsorship is a fantastic option for increasing your talent pool with well qualified staff. It gives you access to many GPs, especially ST3s who are already available or due to receive their certificate of completion of training (CCT), which confirms a doctor has completed an approved UK training programme.

Despite what you may read in the media, there are many healthcare professionals who want to come and work in the NHS and there are a multitude of workers who have gained their CCT and are required to find a place of work quickly that is able to sponsor them as their education visa is no longer valid.

Another key benefit is that, in many circumstances, a GP requiring sponsorship will have flexibility on where they are willing to locate to in the UK, which can be especially helpful for surgeries who are in remote or ‘deprived’ areas.

Also, since under 20% of surgeries in the UK have a sponsorship licence, it means you will be ahead of the game when it comes to recruiting the GPs – and you’ll get a wide range of choices.

The process to become a sponsor is actually very simple and encouragingly it’s not overly expensive.

Costs range from £536 to £1476 depending on the size of your surgery. There is also an option to pay an additional £500 to get a decision within 10 days if you are in a rush.

The application process involves some admin work  but this is relatively straightforward. You can check the details and advice from the sponsorship, employer and education helpline (0300 123 4699), which provides support if required.

Once the paperwork is completed and submitted it will take at least another 8 weeks before you can officially sponsor someone unless you have opted to pay the additional £500 for a 10-day decision.  More information on the process can be found here.

There are some practicalities to consider. I would always recommend reaching out to a legal expert to get support when creating contracts and so forth, which will be required between you and the new employee (s). Many legal firms will have specialists who work on visa applications in the healthcare sector.

Remember that a medical professional coming from abroad will have a completely different experience to working in the NHS/primary care, so factor in sufficient time for giving your new hire support, an induction and an explanation of how the practice operates and any useful information about your patients (such as demographics, the area etc.).

Also, if you are actively looking to bring a GP or healthcare specialist into the UK to work you must get them on the International Induction Programme. This provides a supported pathway for overseas qualified GPs to be inducted safely into NHS General Practice. See here for further details.

Good luck with it all!