NHS England has said it plans to recruit around 2,000 GPs from the EU and overseas countries including Australia and New Zealand by 2020 to bolster the declining workforce in the UK.
The GPC said the announcement of the ‘emergency draft’ of doctors meant the government was ‘effectively conceding they cannot meet their own target’ of recruiting 5,000 extra GPs by 2020.
The new target figure of 2,000 GPs from outside the UK is four times the figure first outlined last year in plans for the International GP Recruitment Programme. Plans in the GP Forward View, published in April 2016, were to see around 500 GPs recruited from overseas by 2020.
The expanded target has emerged in an interview with NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens, in which he told the HSJ that a ‘significantly expanded industrial-scale international recruitment programme’ was needed to ‘increase the likelihood’ of meeting the 5,000-GP target.
Mr Stevens revealed that the true number the NHS would need to recruit from outside the UK ‘probably needs to be four times more’ than the existing target of 500 to ease GP workforce problems.
Dr Richard Vautrey, acting GPC chair, called for more than a ‘sticking plaster’ solution, especially given uncertainties over freedom of movement to the UK following Brexit.
He said: ‘Overseas doctors have for decades provided a valuable contribution to the NHS, especially in general practice where they have a strong track record of providing first class patient care.
‘However, this announcement is yet another clear admission of failure from the government who are effectively conceding they cannot meet their own target of recruiting 5,000 extra GPs without an emergency draft of doctors from abroad.
‘General practice is currently under unsustainable pressure from rising patient demand, falling resources and widespread staff shortages. We need a long-term solution that addresses these workload pressures and the low morale of existing GPs, a climate which is putting off medical graduates from choosing general practice as a career.
‘There needs not only to be an expansion of the number of GPs to create a permanent and stable workforce, but also an increase in the number of support staff that work alongside GPs. This will help give patients the level of appointments and services they need.
‘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.’
Mr 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…
‘And so 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.’