WARSAW, Poland — Brexit uncertainty isnt stopping the U.K.s National Health Service from hiring doctors from beyond its borders — including from the EU.
Enter firms like Paragona, which calls itself “the leading global provider of international solutions to staff shortage problems for the healthcare sector.” The Polish company won a contract with the NHS a few weeks agoas part of the health services “international GP recruitment program,” and is training its first batch of 100 EU doctors to practice in England.
The general practitioners, who come from Spain, Lithuania, Greece and Poland, are enrolled at a campus in the small town of Piaseczno, 20 kilometers south of Warsaw.
“We provide EU GPs with a 12-20 week residential course in Poland and when in the U.K., the doctors undergo additional training under the supervision of a mentor,” Paragona Board Chairman Adam Ringer said.
The training is intensive, with five-day, 40 hour-per-week courses that include simulated surgeries, language courses and classes on British culture.
“Whatever happens in relation to Brexit, the NHS will continue to need excellent doctors from all over Europe” — Rachel Souter, head of international recruitment at NHS England
Conor Crowley, a teacher at the campus, highlighted how this is done. “In Leicestershire, for example, there is a different word for cabbage, and 200 local words, which a foreign GP will not be expected to know, but to be aware of,” he said. “Slavic culture is a bit more direct than the Brits tend to be.”
Doctors are also made to watch classic British soap operas such as “Emmerdale” and “Coronation Street.”
The NHS has decided to throw (Brexit) caution to the wind because of an acute staffing crisis.
While it is Europes biggest employer — with a workforce of 1.1 million — 100,000 jobs are unfilled, 7,000 of them family doctor positions. The latest statistics show the health service had the equivalent of 28,596 fully qualified GPs working in England in December 2018 — 593 fewer than 12 months earlier.
This has had a negative effect on patient care, as well as the wellbeing of medical professionals. “Unfortunately, while workload in general practice is soaring we are hemorrhaging family doctors from the NHS,” Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP), said.
There arent enough British doctors to fill the gap, leading the NHS to launch its international recruitment scheme, a £100 million plan that launched in 2016 to find 500 family doctors from abroad to work in England by 2020. This target was increased to 2,000 in 2017. Eight companies are part of the agreement, with most based in the U.K.
The initial focus has been on GPs from the European Economic Area, and Paragona is doing its best to attract doctors from across the Continent.
“During the course we provide accommodation, meals, sports activities, and grant scholarships for families,” Kinga Łozińska, Paragona Polska CEO, said. The company also helps GPs with resettlement, finding a school and opening a bank account when they get to the U.K.
However, none of the doctors enrolled wanted to talk about the course.
“The GPs are a bit nervous about Brexit. But we have written confirmation from the head of the NHS England recruitment service, guaranteeing the job,” Paragona Chairman Ringer said.
The company even displays the letter from the NHS, dated March 13, on its website. “I would like to assure all general practitioners from other European countries who are welcome and that the terms, conditions of the offer and the employment contract they sign will not be broken or changed to their disadvantage,” wrote Rachel Souter, head of international recruitment at NHS England.
“Whatever happens in relation to Brexit, the NHS will continue to need excellent doctors from all over Europe.”
In February, the NHS pledged to extend the scheme for “the duration of the five-year period 2019/20-2023/24.” It also expanded its recruitment range to include Australia and other non-EEA countries, GPOnline reported.