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Only a fifth of EU GPs promised for April have been recruited

Exclusive NHS England appears to have missed its target to recruit 600 GPs from overseas by the end of this financial year, board papers seen by Pulse reveal.

The papers show that just ‘130 GPs are expected to be recruited by 31 March 2018’ and appeared briefly on NHS England’s website before being taken down.

Dr Arvind Madan, NHS England’s national director for primary care, told Pulse in August that the target was to have ‘appointed 600 GPs who will then be available to work in practices’ by April 2018.

But NHS England now claims that the target was only to ‘begin recruitment’ by the end of the financial year, contradicting Dr Madan’s statement at the time the programme was announced.

Speaking after the expanded international GP recruitment scheme was announced in August, he said: ‘By April 2018, we are aiming to have appointed 600 GPs who will then be available to work in practices in the areas announced today.’

He added there would be ‘a further 1,000 in phase two in 2018’, with the aim of the new scheme to significantly ‘expand the pool of available GPs for practices to employ’.

In an email to Pulse, NHS England later confirmed: ‘The 600 appointed means they’ll be in the system but not necessarily all 600 at their desk in practices.’ 

The scheme was first launched in Lincolnshire over a year ago, attracting 26 GPs from Lithuania, Bulgaria, Poland and Spain, ahead of initial plans to recruit 500 international GPs.

But the scheme was relaunched in August last year with a £100m budget to recruit up to 3,000 overseas GPs by 2020 in a bid to meet the Government’s target of recruiting 5,000 GPs into the workforce by 2020, when 11 ‘phase two’ sites were chosen under the revamped scheme.

This week, NHS England published an update on progress in its papers released before its board meeting on Thursday. After enquiries from Pulse regarding the figures shown, the board paper was taken down from the site.

NHS England then denied that there was a target to recruit 600 GPs by 2017/18, instead claiming that there was a commitment to begin recruitment of 600 roles within 17/18. They refused to say whether they thought Dr Madan was mistaken when he announced the target last August.

An NHS England spokesperson said: ‘NHS England’s commitment was to begin recruitment of 600 doctors by March 2018 and we are on track to do that. This is in line with the timetable we set out when we announced the expansion of the international recruitment programme in August 2017.’

Dr Richard Vautrey, BMA GP Committee chair, said: ‘The BMA is working very closely with the team taking this initiative forward to ensure it is successful. It needs to be a more robust national scheme to try and reduce some of the difficulties some of the regional schemes encountered, but this means that it is taking longer to implement.’

Dr Vautrey added: ‘We are acutely aware that practices around the country have major recruitment and retention issues that are impacting patient care so it’s important that this programme works well and delivers as soon as possible what practices and patients need.’