Figures from NHS England show that 58 doctors recruited via the international GP recruitment programme have started work across England in pilot sites in Lincolnshire, Essex and Cumbria. A further 68 doctors have applied in the Humber Coast and Vale pilot, but can only start work if they are formally accepted into the scheme.
The 58 doctors currently signed up to the international recruitment programme represent just 3% of the total 2,000 GPs that NHS England has pledged to recruit from outside the UK by 2020.
The GP Forward View first set out plans for an international recruitment scheme in 2016, promising 500 GPs by 2020 - but this target was quadrupled last summer, in what the BMA called a 'clear admission' that the government's GP recruitment drive was failing.
NHS England promised to 'start to recruit' 600 doctors in 2017/18, but then appeared to backtrack with board papers published in February 2018 spelling out that it expected 100 GPs to be recruited by the end of March 2018.
Meanwhile, the first doctors recruited via the expanded international recruitment programme aren’t expected to start work until September 2018. NHS England is unable to say how many doctors this will involve.
GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey told GPonline: ‘While any new GP joining the workforce is to be welcomed, we clearly need far more than so far recruited to be able to make a difference for practices who are struggling to manage their workload because of the current workforce crisis.
‘As Jeremy Hunt recently observed, recruiting more GPs is harder than the government thought and the root problem is insufficient funding invested in general practice. This is what must be addressed in the forthcoming NHS long-term funding plan.’
NHS England also said that they have appointed agencies to help drive GP recruitment in EEA countries.
Earlier this month, health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt admitted the government was ‘struggling’ to achieve the overall target of recruiting 5,000 extra GPs by 2020/21.
The figures from the international recruitment scheme come as GP leaders welcomed reports that the government could lift the cap on tier 2 visa applications for doctors and nurses - a move that could stop potential NHS recruits from outside the UK being denied the ability to apply for work.