Foreign GPs come to aid of county's NHS

By Mark HeathFOREIGN doctors are flying in from overseas to help cover the region's stretched out-of-hours GP service.The doctors, who can earn between £55 and £110 an hour, are being drafted in because of a shortage of local GPs who are willing to be on call around the clock.

By Mark Heath

FOREIGN doctors are flying in from overseas to help cover the region's stretched out-of-hours GP service.

The doctors, who can earn between £55 and £110 an hour, are being drafted in because of a shortage of local GPs who are willing to be on call around the clock.

Suffolk Doctors on Call, which provides out-of-hours care for 770,000 patients in Suffolk, north Essex and parts of Cambridgeshire, uses the foreign doctors for weekend cover.


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Richard Spring, West Suffolk MP, said last night he was “horrified” by the arrangement and said it highlighted the “shambolic situation in Suffolk”.

David Cocks, chief executive of Suffolk Doctors on Call, said as local GPs had been able to opt out of providing out-of-hours care since October last year, it had been using foreign doctors to cover.

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“Local GPs no longer have to provide an out-of-hours service. We therefore use a combination of both local doctors and locums, and some of those locums do come from overseas,” he added.

“The amount of overseas doctors we use varies from week to week. We use a couple of locum services and sometimes they supply an overseas doctor and sometimes it's a UK doctor.

“There's a shortage of GPs in the UK in the system and it's a matter of bringing doctors in from overseas sometimes.”

Mr Cocks said the majority of doctors who travelled from overseas were German or Dutch, and they made up a small percentage of the total number of on-call GPs.

He pointed out that on Sunday morning there had been 26 doctors on call for the region - of which four had flown in from overseas.

“It's one way of providing proper GP cover. They are all properly registered and qualified,” said Mr Cocks.

“They work very hard and very well in the system, but obviously it's not the same as having your own local GP working.

“But the more regularly they come, the more they get to know the system and the services in the area - continuity is the important thing.

“There's no drop-off in care. They may practice slightly differently because they come from a different environment.”

He added: “There is concern that we would like more GPs available to work out of hours.

“We are able to fill our shifts by using locums, but that is not ideal. Obviously, the more local GPs we have, the better because they know the system and the area.

“I think doctors flying in for cover is going to be relatively short term - but I think what we will find is more foreign doctors coming over and settling.”

But Mr Spring criticised the situation in Suffolk, calling it a “crisis in the NHS” that was “unacceptable”.

He added: “We really have a shambolic situation in Suffolk. We have massive debts in the NHS and they're getting worse.

“We're seeing more and more cancelled operations and in contrast to countries like Holland and Germany, we have problems in our hospitals.

“It's just an incredible indictment that Suffolk has to get foreign doctors to fly in at the weekends.

“I can never recall a situation in the history of the NHS where they were so short of doctors that they had to fly people in to cover. This is unacceptable.”

A similar situation was highlighted in Norfolk last year when four German doctors were flown in to provide emergency cover - an arrangement that North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb branded as “daft.”

mark.heath@eadt.co.uk

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