International GP recruitment still a key part of plan to build workforce, says RCGP

The RCGP has backed NHS England's under-performing international recruitment scheme as a key element in tackling the GP workforce crisis - but called for more work to stop doctors leaving the profession.

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard (Photo: Pete Hill)
RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard (Photo: Pete Hill)

GPonline revealed earlier this week that NHS England’s international GP recruitment scheme - which offered companies up to £100m to add 2,000 GPs to the NHS workforce - has recruited just 34 doctors into frontline roles in nearly three years.

The BMA has branded the programme ‘disappointing’ - and the RCGP pointed to 'slower than expected' progress. However, the college has argued that recruitment from overseas still has an important role to play as part of a wider set of schemes brought in to tackle the workforce crisis.

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ‘The NHS long-term plan has aspirations that will be great for patient care, but if these are to be realised we need an expanded workforce to deliver it - and the international recruitment scheme is an important element of building the GP workforce.’

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International recruitment scheme adds 34 GPs to workforce in three years

In addition to the 34 GPs working in frontline roles, 42 more have been accepted onto the international recruitment programme. However, these 42 GPs are yet to start working with patients, with 20 currently in the country completing observer placements and 22 due to relocate ‘in the coming months’.

Professor Stokes-Lampard added: ‘Progress has been slower than expected, but we are now seeing GPs from overseas working in general practice in England via the scheme and we hope that any teething problems experienced have now been sorted, and the learning from these had been fed back so that the scheme will be successful.’

The five-year GP contract agreement published last week pledged to extend the international recruitment scheme for ‘the duration of the five-year period 2019/20-2023/24’. It will also be expanded to recruit more doctors from Australia and other non-EEA countries.

The GP retention scheme - which supports doctors thinking of leaving general practice to stay in the profession - has also been extended until 2023/24. NHS data shows that 320 GPs were on the scheme as of 30 September 2018, representing a 106% increase over a three-year period.

International GPs

In addition, NHS England confirmed to GPonline that more than 700 doctors have applied to join the NHS induction and refresher scheme - a ‘safe supported and direct route’ for qualified GPs, including international GPs, to join or return to NHS general practice.

These, Professor Stokes-Lampard argues, are the programmes the NHS should build on in its forthcoming workforce strategy - due to be published later this year.

She said: ‘We already have more GPs in training than ever before – but we also need to introduce meaningful initiatives to retain our existing workforce, so that we can deliver the care our patients need and deserve.’

Dr Krishna Kasaraneni, GPC executive team lead for workforce, added: ‘GPs and their patients continue to bear the brunt of the recruitment and retention crisis in general practice, and the development of programmes that aim to boost the number of family doctors working in the NHS is part of good, long-term workforce planning.

‘Any new scheme will take time to produce results and progress should be kept under review, and where necessary, improvements made. This is ever more important given the background of Brexit, and uncertainty over future immigration arrangements, which means Britain is becoming a far less attractive destination for overseas doctors to work and train.’

Together, NHS England’s international GP recruitment programme (launched in 2016), GP retention scheme (launched in 2016) and induction and refresher scheme (launched in 2015) formed a key part of the GP Forward View pledge to boost the GP workforce by 5,000 by 2020/21.

However, the government later confirmed that it was ‘struggling to meet’ the GPFV target, and dropped the original deadline for recruiting 5,000 GPs. It now aims to recruit 5,000 GPs ‘as soon as possible’.

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