GMC survey results on the returning doctors workforce due to COVID-19 - next steps

15 June 2020

A message from Celia Ingham Clark regarding the GMC survey results on the returning doctors workforce due to COVID-19

Before COVID-19 arrived England was short of approximately 10,000 doctors.

As part of the response to COVID-19 the GMC brought a large number of doctors who had recently relinquished their registration back onto an Emergency Medical Register. Around 16,000 of these responded to a survey NHSEI offered for them to give us information about their specialty, grade and experience. We then segmented them so that GPs were initially streamed towards working for the NHS111 COVID Assessment Service and hospital doctors were sent to their local Region. Identity checks and further engagement on around 6,000 doctors were done at regional or Integrated Care System level and doctors were offered to Trusts for employment. In practice less than 10% of the doctors have been offered employment. Trust HR Directors say that they do not need additional staff at present and have no funding to employ them.


Analysis of the returner cohort and their responses to a survey shows that 7% are under 30, 18% 30-39, 15% 40-49, 15% 50-59 and approximately 45% are over age 60. All have been able to specify whether they are willing to work face to face or only remotely. Around half of the returners say they are interested in working for the NHS in the longer term, not just during the COVID emergency.


In terms of specialty the commonest specialty representations are as follows:

Psychiatry 487; surgical specialties 462; anaesthetics/ICM 403; general medicine 306; paediatrics 296; public health 211; obstetrics and gynaecology 208; radiology 119; renal medicine 119; occupational medicine 113; pathology 96; ophthalmology 83; oncology 73; endocrinology 64; emergency medicine 63; cardiology 62; gastroenterology 54; rheumatology 50. There are also more than a thousand returner GPs who have not yet been employed. For a further 2771 doctors their specialty was not clear from the evidence they had submitted.

Next Steps

The National Medical Director, Stephen Powis, is due to write out to trust Medical Directors shortly to point out that the workforce demand is likely to increase within a few weeks. This is due to several factors including the restoration of normal services, the need for a continuing higher level of critical care provision, the need for existing staff to be able to take annual leave, the requirement for staff identified through Test and Trace to self-isolate for 14 days, and the inefficiency factor associated with implementing social distancing and separating COVID and non-COVID services.

There is now an opportunity for medical Royal Colleges to communicate with their local representatives to highlight the opportunity to take on additional medical staff from the returner group. The staff available will have different levels of experience and many will want to work flexibly. However these are all people who have taken active steps to come back to work in the NHS, and many will be amenable to further development with a view to continuing to work longer term. Consultants and clinical leads who would like to explore whether they could find it useful to take on these additional staff, both for the short term and where they could provide support to develop some of these doctors into longer-term colleagues are encouraged to raise this with their Medical Directors and HR Directors. The GMC is keen to support transition for appropriate doctors from the Emergency Register back onto the main Medical Register.

Celia Ingham Clark would be happy to answer any queries about the returner doctor’s cohort:

How does this effect me?

In light of this information, Celia Ingham Clark would like us to ask you:

  1. to consider whether you need additional medical staff in your local services in order to deliver services over the rest of this financial year (allowing for annual leave, leave due to self-isolation if positive contact tracing, restoring normal services and delivering some catch-up services, and an awareness that there may be a second COVID surge).
  2. to think about whether you need any additional medical staff at consultant or junior level and to raise this with your Medical Director and HR Director at the earliest opportunity. The MD and HRD will have access to information held at the local ICS or by the Region that includes details of doctors available and willing to come to work in the NHS over the next few months.

Of course the supply may not match to demand in terms of requirement or geography but this would seem to be an unexpected opportunity for help with the medical staffing shortages that all specialties have faced.