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NHS England looks to recruit 2,000 GPs from overseas to offset retirements

NHS England is increasing the target for its overseas recruitment programme from 500 to around 2,000.

It is understood this includes GPs from the EU and from other overseas countries, and comes as part of the Government’s pledge to deliver 5,000 more GPs by 2020.

As first revealed by Pulse, the GP Forward View had committed NHS England to recruiting up to 500 GPs from overseas in a bid to help achieve the goal.

The expanded programme, due to launch this autumn, could see GPs targeted from the EU, Australia and New Zealand.

NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens told HSJ: ‘Although there are some good signs of progress on increases in the GP training scheme, nevertheless there are real pressures around retirements.

‘The conclusion we’ve come to is that in order to increase the likelihood of being able to have 5,000 more doctors in general practice, we are going to need… a significantly expanded industrial scale international recruitment programme. We intend to launch that in the autumn.’

He added: ‘Rather than the current 500 or so GPs that are being targeted for international recruitment…it probably needs to be four times more than that, from international sources – [from the] rest of the EU and possibly New Zealand and Australia.’

NHS England launched a £30m contract tender for companies to bid to help recruit GPs from the EU earlier this month, expanding the programme from an initial £20m budget. The contract runs from 25 September this year for three years until 2020.

GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey told Pulse: ‘Clearly they haven’t secured the increase of GPs in line with progress to the 5,000 GP goal, so far. So they’re considering all options.

‘This is a dedicated international recruitment initiative, the International GP Recruitment Programme, this is an expansion of that but I don’t know if they’re going to expand the funding as well.

‘I think it is a sign that they are serious about trying to address the low number of GPs, and we have to use all means possible to attract and retain them.’

Some 25 GPs from overseas have already been brought over to Lincolnshire as part of NHS England’s pilot scheme. 

The GPs have been guaranteed an annual salary of £90,000 and a ‘generous relocation package’ to move to England to work.

GP practices in Hull have also been invited to express their interest in recruiting EU GPs and Essex announced plans to recruit 20 GPs from from Portugal, Spain, Romania, Czech Republic and Slovakia, in an effort to curb recruitment issues that have plagued the county for several years.

Pulse recently reported that the NHS in Scotland is also looking to recruit GPs from the EU as Dumfries and Galloway enlisted a medical agency to help fill 20 empty posts with EU doctors.

The UK’s decision last summer to leave the EU did cast some doubt over NHS England’s plans – with recruiters warning that the referendum result could put off potential applicants – but NHS England has since confirmed that it was looking to expand the scheme.

The overseas recruitment drive is also at odds with the Government’s plan for the NHS to become less reliant on foreign doctors and in the long term ‘self-sufficient’ in producing medical staff.

Dr Vautrey said: ‘They’ve made a commitment to increase medical school placements by 1,500 per year, but it’s going to take a long time to turn those students into doctors. That’s a long-term solution to this problem.

‘But we need to look at short-term solutions as well, not least addressing the workload pressure within general practice so we make the job itself more appealing to doctors who have trained within the NHS when they’re making career choices.’

He added that ‘applying a sticking plaster by recruiting doctors from abroad can only offer a limited short-term fix, especially when there is uncertainty over freedom of movement following the UK’s exit from the EU’.