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The truth about… NHS England’s international GP recruitment scheme

As GPs recruited from overseas start work in practices, Pulse answers your questions about NHS England’s flagship EU GP recruitment scheme.

I’ve heard NHS England is bringing in some GPs from abroad. How many are coming over?

According to NHS England, they’re looking to bring over anywhere between 2,000 and 3,000 GPs from overseas by 2020 – about two thirds of the Government’s target to add an extra 5,000 GPs to the workforce by 2020.

This sounds familiar. Was the plan always to bring in that many GPs from overseas?

No, it wasn’t. In the GP Forward View, released in April 2016, NHS England pledged to bring in just 500 GPs from abroad by 2020 but the scheme was relaunched in August 2017 with a new expanded initiative.

The original scheme is already up and running in three parts of the country, Lincolnshire, Essex, and Cumbria.

So why did the plan change?

NHS England’s director for primary care Dr Arvind Madan told Pulse the aim of the relaunched scheme was to ‘expand the pool of available GPs for practices to employ’.

And this is desperately needed. In April 2016, the Government set a target of adding 5,000 GPs to the workforce by 2020. But the situation has been going from bad to worse. According to the most recent of NHS Digital’s quarterly workforce figures, the GP workforce in England is continuing to decline, with 219 full-time equivalent GPs lost to the profession since September.

What are the chances NHS England will be able to bring in 3,000 GPs from abroad? That sounds like a lofty goal.

Dr Madan told Pulse, when the scheme was first launched in 2017: ‘In this financial year we’re looking to recruit 600 doctors.’ But NHS England board papers from February said they expect 100 GPs to be recruited from overseas by 31 March 2018. However, NHS England has since said that just 85 GPs are working in practices as of 1 April. 

When Pulse asked why the target was missed, NHS England denied that there was a target to recruit 600 GPs by 2017/18, instead claiming that Dr Madan misspoke.

Where will all these GPs come from?

NHS England is keen to focus on ‘ethically recruiting’ GPs from countries in the European Economic Area that aren’t also suffering from a GP workforce crisis, as these doctors are automatically eligible to join the GP register.

This sounds expensive. How much has NHS England set aside for the scheme?

The budget for the new expanded scheme is £100m.

When the GPs are brought over, how will we know whether they are up to NHS standard?

The recruited GPs will be fully qualified in their home country. NHS England has said the GPs will be given training on the health service and its computer systems, and given help with language development relevant to medical practice. They will also be put through the induction and refresher scheme in England.

However, Dr Kieran Sharrock, who first initiated the Lincolnshire drive for international recruits over a year ago in response to the local workforce crisis, told Pulse early on that new recruits might struggle to achieve the minimum grade in the induction and refresher scheme.

What other support does the programme offer? 

NHS England is also in talks to see whether it could become a sponsor for international GPs, for visa purposes, to avoid practices having the difficulty of dealing with this process.

Where will these GPs be placed?

The 85 GPs that have already started working in practices were placed in the programme’s pilot sites in Lincolnshire, Essex and Cumbria.

But the relaunched scheme will focus on 11 additional regions: 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.

My practice is in one of these areas. How can I hire one of these new recruits?

Practices need to then tell their commissioner if they would like to be considered. NHS England has said the scheme is open to all practices with no specific criteria in place beyond the practice having a vacancy and wanting to employ an international recruit.

I’m outside of this area but I want a recruit from overseas. What should I do?

Initially NHS England is just focused on these 11 areas. But eventually the scheme will be expanded and other areas will be invited to express interest in recruiting to any vacancies in their area, so it’s worth raising it with them. 

Will NHS England pay for a practice to employ an overseas GP recruit?

While the international GP recruitment programme will play a role in matching recruits and practices, practices will remain responsible for salary and employment costs.

What’s been the reaction to the international recruitment scheme from GPs in charge?

The BMA’s GP Committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey welcomed the scheme, saying it ‘may help to provide much-needed GPs in the short term’. He said: ‘Overseas professionals have a strong track record of providing first-rate care to patients in the NHS over many decades.’ 

But GPC workforce lead Dr Krishna Kasaraneni said that although overseas doctors have long supported the NHS, this scheme would ‘not address fully the huge shortfall in GP numbers’.