Board papers published by NHS England this week warn that 'GP numbers continue to be under real pressure'. GPonline reported earlier this month that the full-time equivalent workforce in England had fallen 4% in the two years from March 2016 to March 2018.
The continuing decline in the workforce has left health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt's pledge of 5,000 more full-time GPs by 2020/21 looking increasingly unachievable.
However, the international GP recruitment scheme aims to deliver 2,000 new recruits by 2020/21 - with NHS England promising last year that it would 'start to recruit around 600 overseas doctors into general practice in 2017/18 and aim for a total of at least 2,000 doctors over the next three years'.
NHS England said in February that organisations working on the scheme expected to bring in 100 doctors by 31 March 2018. The latest update from NHS England's board said this week: 'It is anticipated that the first candidates will begin working in England by the end of September 2018.'
RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard warned earlier this month that general practice was losing doctors 'at an alarming rate'. She said that 'substantial efforts to increase the GP workforce in England are falling short – and we need urgent action to address this'.
NHS England's board papers said it was aiming for CCGs to deliver an extra £171m investment in primary care by March 2019, and highlighted infrastructure projects, investment in pharmacists working in primary care and work to help GPs and practice staff to 'maximise their time'.
The update on the international recruitment scheme came as data published by the government showed that numbers of GPs caring for the most deprived quintile of the population are falling faster than the workforce in more affluent areas.