Exclusive Just 85 GPs from overseas are in post nearly two years after the launch of NHS England’s flagship international recruitment scheme.
NHS England had said 100 international GPs would be recruited by the end of March, in a bid to boost GP numbers, which have been falling.
GP leaders said the latest figures are ‘disappointingly low’, but welcomed their arrival in the face of a recruitment crisis that has ‘engulfed general practice’.
The scheme, which aims to recruit at least 2,000 international doctors by 2020, initially led GPs to believe that there would be 600 GPs in the pipeline by the beginning of April.
However, NHS England later corrected this statement, saying that NHS England’s primary care lead Dr Arvind Madan misspoke.
Instead, they said 100 GPs were expected to be recruited from overseas by 31 March 2018, of which 85 were working in practices – as of 1 April – in three pilot sites: Lincolnshire, Essex and Cumbria.
Dr Helena McKeown, education, training and workforce policy lead for the BMA’s GP Committee, said: ‘Given the recruitment and retention crisis that has engulfed general practice in recent years, it is clear that the arrival of additional highly-skilled doctors to help ease intense workload burden cannot happen soon enough.
‘While initial figures may seem disappointingly low at present, we know that stakeholders are working hard to push this initiative forward.’
However, she added that ‘rigid immigration policy rides roughshod over attempts to solve NHS workforce shortages’.
An NHS England spokesperson said: ‘Building on a series of pilots, 85 GPs have joined the International GP Recruitment Programme in the pilot sites or are completing their assessments, with more in the pipeline.’
International GPs recruited on to the programme are put on to induction and refresher scheme, which finishes with placements in practices of up to six months.
Lincolnshire first implemented an international recruitment scheme in 2016 to address a local recruitment crisis, ahead of a wider role out by NHS England to 11 areas announced in August 2017.
GPs were outraged over a Home Office move to deport British-trained doctor Luke Anthony Ong to Singapore, just months before he qualifies as a GP.
NHS England has invested £100m in the international recruitment scheme in a bid to meet the Government’s target of recruiting 5,000 GPs into the workforce by 2020.
But the latest figures show that GPs are continuing to leave the workforce at an alarming rate, with 219 GPs lost to the workforce between September and December 2017.
Meanwhile, a Pulse investigation revealed that almost 3,000 GPs have retired early – before the age of 60 – since April 2013.