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 decision to extend the scheme has come despite question marks over 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’.
GPonline revealed in June that only 58 doctors had joined England’s general practice workforce via the scheme in its first two years - just 3% of the 2,000 GPs NHS England initially pledged to recruit from outside the UK by 2020.
Neither NHS England nor the RCGP have been able to confirm whether the review requested by the college took place - and officials have been unable to confirm whether the international recruitment scheme has added more than the 58 GPs reported last June to the NHS workforce.
An RCGP spokesperson, however, confirmed that the college wanted to see the programme speed up.
An update in NHS England board papers for January said: 'We continue to explore new ways to attract candidates and are starting to see this programme gain momentum with approximately 1,200 applications and over 170 doctors either in screening or in the early stages of recruitment.'
GPonline revealed in October that NHS England had launched a drive to attract doctors from Australia.
An NHS England document setting out the five-year contract agreement unveiled last week says: ‘NHS England continues work to attract GPs from overseas. Active recruitment from Australia began in October 2018 following work with the RCGP and GMC to launch a streamlined process to check equivalence of qualifications and experience for Australian-trained GPs who qualified after 2011.
‘This has now been extended to doctors who qualified under the 2007 Australian curriculum. We are exploring whether we can streamline the process for some additional non-EEA countries.’
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’.
Dr Krishna Kasaraneni, GPC executive team lead for workforce, said: ‘GPs and their patients continue to bear the brunt of the recruitment and retention crisis in general practice, and the development of programmes such as this 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.’
Other general practice programmes scheduled to be extended under the new contract include the GP retention programme, the success of which has been repeatedly dwarfed by the number of doctors quitting the workforce each month.
The GP health service for GPs was also earmarked for the five-year extension, after GPonline revealed in September that almost 1,200 family doctors were receiving help from the programme.