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ARRIVING FROM ABROAD - joining the health service from overseas

Regardless of the current challenges facing health and social care in the UK today, Great Britain’s health service is still the envy of many foreign countries, and its vibrant mix of GPs from around the world are a testament to that.

GMC figures updated at the end of 2016 show that 102,599 doctors, and more specifically 15,156 GPs, registered to practice in the UK, initially qualified overseas.

The lure of working for or providing services to for the NHS is strong for many across the world, whether for the financial reward, career opportunities or simply the reputation for clinical excellence.

One doctor who can vouch for that whole-heartedly is Dr Mark Mackenzie, a South African national who came to England in 2004 to spend six months getting to know the healthcare system here.

“The idea was to come over for just six months,” he said. “There were a couple of reasons, but a huge part of the incentive was money – the pay is far better than in South Africa – but also I was wary at the time of the political situation in Cape Town and wanted to know that if it got bad I would have somewhere to go.”

Dr Mackenzie’s short stint quickly changed once he arrived in Salisbury as, despite leaving friends and family behind, he, ‘instantly fell in love with the place’ and he’s been in the UK ever since.

“I made my decision pretty quickly,” he said. “I arrived as a hospital locum in and then worked as an SHO (Senior House Officer). My qualifications from South Africa were recognised here so once I’d done six months of practice I was able to get on the performers list, so it was quite straightforward.

“I knew pretty early on I wanted to stay. I loved what I was doing and the way of life. In Cape Town even as a GP I was working in a medical centre that was open 24 hours a day, seven days a week so I was on call one night a week and worked weekends.

“It was very busy, we ran all sorts of clinics, did X-rays, minor ops, everything – but essentially it was a big corporate entity – and you paid for everything.

“Coming to a healthcare system like you have here from somewhere like South Africa, where everybody has to pay as they go, was a big change. The NHS system was quite something to me and it takes a while to get used it, but essentially people over here don’t know how lucky they are.

“Sure, there are inefficiencies within the system around administration, and where I come from that just wouldn’t be tolerated, but essentially everyone will get treated the same way, and for free - that is the thing that impresses me the most.”

Alongside the ethos of the NHS, Dr Mackenzie explains how the opportunities for career development in England have also encouraged him to stay here.

He said: “I’ve been able to add extra elements to my work too – I now work at the Maple Access Partnership in Northampton two days a week but in the hospital three days as well and run several clinics and services.  I work in different areas and I also get involved in teaching and training.

“That would just not have been an option in South Africa. Only the way the NHS works has allowed me to create my own niche.”

Coming from overseas has allowed Dr Mackenzie, and the thousands like him who relocate to this country every year, to look at the NHS and our healthcare system from an objective point of view and fully appreciate all that it has to offer GPs.