International recruitment scheme adds 34 GPs to workforce in three years

An international recruitment scheme that 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.

NHS recruitment scheme 'disappointing' (Photo: iStock)
NHS recruitment scheme 'disappointing' (Photo: iStock)

This is less than 2% of the 2,000 GPs NHS England hoped to recruit from outside the UK by 2020 - an aim that formed a key part of the wider promise to increase the GP workforce by 5,000.

An additional 42 doctors have been accepted onto the international recruitment programme, NHS England said, meaning that 76 GPs have joined the scheme overall. This is an increase of 18 compared with six months ago, when GPonline reported that 58 doctors had been signed up.

The extra 42 doctors accepted onto the scheme 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’.

GP recruitment

GPC executive team lead for workforce Dr Krishna Kasaraneni told GPonline: ‘It is disappointing to see schemes like this attract such low numbers. Like the extra 5,000 GPs promised by the government in 2015, it was overly ambitious to think that this programme would result in such a large number of recruits.’

An NHS England spokesperson said: ‘In total, NHS England has now recruited over 70 doctors to the programme through both the pilots and the extended national programme.’

NHS England highlighted that although there had been a high level of interest in the scheme with around 1,200 applications internationally, high standards meant that the dropout rate was also high.

Dr Kasaraneni added: ‘While our colleagues from overseas have much to offer in terms of skill and experience, this scheme is just one part of long-term workforce planning and was never going to be the magic solution to the recruitment crisis. As Brexit day approaches, this will become more of an issue, as Britain becomes a less appealing place for EU doctors, and may influence the desire of those doctors from outside Europe  to come and work in the NHS.

GP contract

‘As recognised in the recent partnership review and GP contract agreement between ourselves and NHS England, the priority should be to address the pressures of rising demand and increased workload in the UK so that general practice is an attractive prospect for all doctors.’

Earlier this week, GPonline revealed that the international GP recruitment scheme had been extended until 2023/24. It is also due to be expanded to recruit more doctors from Australia and other non-EEA countries.

The decision to extend the scheme came despite the RCGP publicly questioning its effectiveness. An RCGP report last summer voiced doubts over the scheme and called for a review - warning that its funding should be released for use elsewhere ‘if the expected pipeline of international recruits does not materialise’.

However, NHS England board papers for January insist that the programme is ‘beginning to gain momentum’. Despite low numbers brought in through the international GP recruitment programme, more than 700 doctors have applied to join the NHS induction and refresher scheme - some of whom are international doctors.

NHS England’s international GP recruitment programme was launched in 2016 to support the GP Forward View pledge to boost the GP workforce by 5,000 by 2020/21. At first it aimed to ‘attract up to an extra 500 appropriately trained and qualified doctors from overseas’, but this target was quadrupled in 2017 to 2,000 overseas GPs by 2020/21.

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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