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CCGs halving targets of ‘extremely disappointing’ international GP scheme

CCGs have been forced to cut international recruitment targets because they have been unable to recruit enough overseas GPs, Pulse has learned.

At least three of the 11 CCGs taking part in the international GP recruitment scheme pilot areas have halved their targets, which they deemed ‘overly ambitious’. 

This comes as NHS England admitted just over 70 GPs – only 50 of which are in the country – have been recruited so far.

The GP Forward View committed to recruiting more than 500 GPs from overseas by 2020, as part of its plan to add an extra 5,000 GPs to the workforce. The target for overseas recruitment scheme was then uplifted to around 2,000.

GP leaders have called the situation ‘extremely disappointing’, and argued the requirements for recruitment have put many GPs off applying.

According to CCG board papers, many areas are now drastically cutting targets, in an attempt to meet them, while others are simply reporting low uptake and slow progress. These include:

  • NHS Wyre CCG board papers from October show the scheme ’saw a reduction in local target from 50 to 23, based on NHS advice, as the scheme is not delivering as anticipated’
  • NHS Birmingham and Solihul CCG board papers show it successfully bid £3.6m to recruit 100 GPs. But in May 2018, NHS England adjusted this target to ‘realistic 48 recruits’. As of February 2019, the CCG said three GPs have been recruited
  • NHS Great Yarmouth and Waverney CCG said in August NHS England ‘revised the International GP Recruitment allocation which has been reduced to 41 GPs. This has left a gap of 39 GPs to find through other schemes’
  • NHS Ipswich and East Suffolk CCG said in September that it acknowledged the trajectory for international recruitment was ‘overly ambitious’ and reported that ‘based on the initial performance, the target was revised down 40 starts over two years across the STP’
  • NHS Rushcliffe CCG board papers from November showed that although the scheme was heavily oversubscribed, progress was slow and to date there are currently no GPs working in Nottinghamshire, as a result of the international recruitment scheme

But despite the poor levels of uptake, the new five-year GP contract, published last week, announced the international recruitment programme will be extended until 2023/24 ‘to help deliver against the extra 5,000 doctors in general practice’.

The scheme, which was first introduced in Lincolnshire to address the local recruitment crisis, was rolled out in 11 other areas by NHS England: Humber Coast and Vale, North East, Middleton, Heywood and Rochdale, Staffordshire, Mid Nottinghamshire (Mansfield and Newark), Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, Norfolk and Suffolk, Birmingham and Solihull, Kent and Medway, South East London, North East London.

So far, Lincolshire has seen the most advanced scheme, recruiting 26 international GPs against a target of 25.

Lincolnshire LMC medical director Dr Kieran Sharrock said: ‘We managed to recruit more very quickly because we made a very good offer. These were doctors who knew they would need support passing the induction and refresher scheme and they also knew they would need support with passing their language skills and because the offer we made gave them both education and training, it was very attractive.’

But Dr Sharrock said he is not surprised CCGs are halving targets, arguing it ‘hasn’t successfully recruited enough doctors’ due to language requirements being too high, and labelling the recruitment model ‘not appropriate’.

‘To come and work in the UK, doctors in Europe need to have an IELTS level to 7 to 7,5. There are only a few doctors out there who already have that level, which is why we said we’re going to find doctors who have an IELTS level of 5 or 6 and train them up to 7.5.

‘That opens the market up significantly because you’re going to find a lot more doctors who are able to apply,’ he said. 

BMA GP Committee workforce lead Dr Helena McKeown said: ‘I think it’s extremely disappointing.’

‘It’s the same as the calls to say we would have 5,000 more GPs in general, which was a very ambitious target. I think it’s all about the workload. We need to address the workload then people would want to be GPs in England,’ she added.

An NHS England spokesperson said: ‘NHS England has now recruited more than 70 doctors to the programme and, of these, over 50 are in the country either seeing patients or in observer placements and last week we launched a recruitment campaign in Australia.’

‘NHS England has not set local targets but is actively supporting international recruitment,’ they added.

NHS England announced plans last year to make it easier for Australian GPs to work in the UK.

Last week, NHS England launched a social media campaign, which called on Australian GPs to come and work in ‘land of’ Harry Potter.

Ealier this year, Pulse revealed health secretary Matt Hancock has not set a new date for when the Government should meet its target of adding 5,000 more GPs in the workforce, admitting it will be ‘slower than was originally envisaged’.