Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, recently pledged for free movement of doctors and nurses from across the world to the UK and to lift immigration limits in a bid to help resolve NHS staff shortages. Our permanent recruitment expert, Drew Eaton, has been working in healthcare recruitment for four years, spending two years of this time focused on supporting overseas doctors. Having helped numerous doctors move to the UK from overseas and working with both NHS Trusts and doctors, Drew has a unique insight into the challenges faced from both sides. We’ve taken a closer look at why Hancock’s pledges may not be quite as ground-breaking as they first seem.

Freedom of movement would of course be of great benefit to all healthcare professionals and a step in the right direction, but Drew believes that the impact of this would be limited. Drew said:

“Hancock has already stated that one of the limitations will be dependent on the doctor possessing the ‘right qualifications.’ Unless the GMC and Royal Colleges are willing to review and potentially accept more internationally trained doctors and their qualifications, then the staffing crisis will continue.”

As it stands, EU nationals can obtain a GMC licence just after graduating from Medical school in any foreign country as the GMC accepts all PGQs from an EU citizen, even if they trained outside of the EU. The only requirement for EU doctors to be able to obtain a GMC licence is to prove their English is good enough which is usually assessed through the OET or IELTS exam. EU nationals are exempt from doing the PLAB exams, which is a two-part exam to test that doctors that qualified abroad have the right knowledge and skills to practise medicine in the UK.

“For recruiters like myself, hiring hospitals and EU doctors this is great. EU doctors have freedom of movement so placements are quick and the hiring hospitals and doctors don’t need to worry about the cost and delays involved with visas and the GMC licencing process,” says Drew.

However, for doctors from outside the EU the process can be lengthier. If the doctor holds a PGQ that’s listed on the GMC’s website, they must be granted full GMC registration within three years of completing their qualification. Otherwise, they’ll have to supply further evidence to prove they’ve been in continuous practice.

If the doctor doesn’t hold a GMC recognised PGQ then they will need to either sit the PLAB exams, obtain a recognised PGQ or apply through CESR. They’ll also need to prove their English language proficiency, with the IELTS academic exam covering GMC registration, it can also cover the visa language requirement if taken in a UKVI approved test centre. OET can only be used for GMC registration so the doctor would also need to pass the UKVI version of the IELTS exam by achieving a score of 4.0 or higher.

“This inequality comes down to EU law and the GMC’s standards. It could be made easier and more standardised for all doctors from outside the UK. This would mean that all doctors, whether they qualified in Spain or the USA, have to meet the GMC’s standard, regardless of where they completed their qualification and whether they have an EU passport,” says Drew. “Matt Hancock’s proposal is certainly a step in the right direction, but I believe it only addresses a small part of the wider solution that needs to happen and that’s for GMC & Royal Colleges to recognise more non-EU PGQs. The PLAB exams are due to be replaced in 2022 by a new medical assessment called MLA (Medical Licensing Assessment). All students in UK medical schools and doctors from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) will need to pass the MLA. EU Citizens are still protected by EU law and wouldn’t need to sit the MLA, although this may change after the Brexit negotiations.”

What do you think about Matt Hancock’s pledges? You can let us know what you think by emailing

If you’re thinking about working as a doctor in the UK and want to speak to our team of experts, simply call 01277 217777 to discuss your options in more detail.