A third of doctors consider leaving UK

by Tim Tonkin

Dissatisfaction with pay and feeling undervalued are driving thousands of doctors to consider leaving the UK, according to a new GMC report

Location: UK
Published: Friday 12 April 2024
hospital corridor

An online survey of more than 3,000 doctors found that 30 per cent said that they were ‘very likely’ or ‘fairly likely’ to relocate abroad to practise medicine over the next 12 months, with a further 33 per cent stating they were likely to do so ‘at some point’.

The findings, part of the GMC’s Identifying Groups of Migrating Doctors research report, spoke to doctors working in the UK, those who had already left and those who had returned from overseas.

Among doctors currently practising in the UK who were considering leaving, 79 per cent cited wanting to increase pay as their main reason for going abroad, with 75 per cent stating that they felt ‘undervalued professionally’ working in the health service.

A further 62 per cent and 72 per cent respectively said that being adversely affected by their current role in the UK and wanting a ‘better quality of life’ were key motivations in considering leaving the country.   



Responding to the report, BMA representative body chair and workforce lead Dr Latifa Patel said that the number of doctors considering quitting the UK to work abroad at a time when the health service was already deeply stretched and understaffed was ‘incredibly worrying’.

She added that while alarming, the report’s findings were sadly not surprising given the ongoing disputes over pay across many sections of the profession, and doctors’ long-running concerns over issues such as poor working conditions and burnout. 

She said: ‘When we’re already short of doctors, these figures are incredibly worrying – showing almost a third of doctors surveyed saying they are likely to move to work abroad in the next 12 months.

‘If the intentions laid out in this survey are followed through across the workforce this year, losing such a significant proportion of the UK’s medical expertise would be disastrous for patients.

“That so many doctors say they are looking to leave for overseas is not surprising though, when we consider the immense pressures healthcare staff are under in an overwhelmed service battling huge workforce shortages.

‘Here in black and white we see the main factor driving UK doctors away is pay, and that the majority feel professionally undervalued.

‘This evidence piles further pressure on ministers to settle their ongoing pay disputes with doctors across the UK, ensuring that we are never again in a situation where pay and conditions erode to such a degree that such alarmingly high numbers of doctors are considering or actively planning to leave the country.’



The GMC’s survey, which was conducted between June and July last year, heard from a total of 3,154 doctors.

This figure included 1,549 doctors currently practising in the UK as well as 1,156 doctors who had left the UK between 2018 and 2022 to practise abroad and 449 who had since returned to the UK.

In identifying potential solutions to improve retention of doctors considering moving abroad, the GMC’s report highlights improvements to working conditions and boosting pay as measures likely to be the most effective.

It said: ‘Making general improvements to workplace conditions – including ensuring effective support structures are in place and workloads are more manageable – could address the main reasons why doctors say they are unhappy in UK practise and have a positive impact upon retention.

‘Increasing doctors pay would reduce its importance overall as a reason to consider migration and would improve the UK’s competitive position against the countries that doctors are most commonly moving to.’

Read the report here