GP numbers set to receive major boost as NHS England acts to expand international recruitment

NHS England is set to expand the GP workforce with the acceleration of an international recruitment programme, following a series of regional pilots.

Working with partners it will 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. This compares to the initial target of 500 doctors by 2020/21.

The decision to step up international GP recruitment was announced last month by NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens. Today NHS England is calling for recruitment firms to join a framework to support the programme, with the publication of a tender on the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU).

NHS England is also announcing today the establishment of a GP International Recruitment Office to organise and run the scaled up programme operation. It will coordinate the recruitment, support for, and relocation of recruited doctors, working closely with regional and local colleagues and partner organisations.

The expanded international recruitment scheme will initially focus on doctors in the European Economic Area, whose GP training is recognised in the UK under European law and already get automatic recognition to join the GMC’s GP Register.

The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP), working with the General Medical Council (GMC), will now review the curriculum, training and assessment processes for GPs trained outside the EEA, beginning with Australia, to identify whether we can streamline the GP registration process for those doctors whose training is seen as equivalent to the UK GP programme.

This will help deliver the commitment set out in the General Practice Forward View action plan that will see 5,000 more GPs and 5,000 more medical professionals working in general practice by 2020, when an extra £2.4 billion will be spent on general practice each year – a 14% real terms rise.

Over the next several years the intake into medical schools in England will grow by 25%, but it will be some years before that expanded pipeline of UK doctors is available to enter general practice. In the meantime international recruitment will help, as has been the case throughout the history of the NHS. Around a fifth of existing GPs are international medical graduates, so even with these new international recruitment plans, the proportion of UK trained GPs is set to increase.

So far a number of regional pilots have taken place, with Lincolnshire, the most advanced scheme, recruiting 26 GPs against a target of 25, while Essex and Cumbria are also currently underway.
NHS England is now working with a further 11 areas to expand the programme across the country.

Doctors will be expected to meet the highest standards of practice including being able to speak good English and support will be in place to ensure this as well as being offered help with the relocation of their families.

Dr Arvind Madan, GP and NHS England Director of Primary Care, said: “Most new GPs will continue to be trained in this country, and general practice will benefit from the 25% increase in medical school places over the coming years. But the NHS has a proud history of ethically employing international medical professionals, with one in five GPs currently coming from overseas. This scheme will deliver new recruits to help improve services for patients and reduce some of the pressure on hard working GPs across the country.”

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “We welcome any GP from the EU or further afield who wants to work in UK general practice – as long as they meet the rigorous standards set by the College, General Medical Council and others to ensure safe clinical practice – to contribute to delivering care to over 1m patients every day. Indeed, thousands of GPs from overseas already work alongside UK GPs, and we are incredibly grateful for their skills and expertise.

“We need the pledges in NHS England’s GP Forward View, including £2.4bn extra a year for general practice and 5,000 more full-time equivalent GPs by 2020, delivered as a matter of urgency so that we can continue to keep our patients safe now and for years to come – we hope this scheme goes a long way to achieving this, and look forward to working with NHS England and others to make it a success.”

In looking to recruit doctors from overseas, we will be guided by the following principles:

  1. Patient safety is paramount – the standards expected of doctors working in English general practice will be maintained
  2. We will be bound by the World Health Organisation Global Code of Practice on the International Recruitment of Health Personnel
  3. We will look to attract UK-trained doctors back to the UK wherever possible
  4. UK-trained doctors will not be disadvantaged as a result of this programme
  5. We will target those countries where there is likely to be the best chance of affordable supply.
  6. We will continue our efforts and activity on the important work to improve the attractiveness and experience of being a GP in England.