Only 124 GPs recruited via NHS England’s international GP recruitment programme are still practising in England. The target had been 2,000 GPs by 2020.
A Freedom of Information request sent to NHS England by our sister publication Pulse found a total of 155 GPs had been recruited via the programme between 2018 and 2021. But 31 doctors left the programme during the same period, leaving just 124 still practising.
Initially, NHS England had pledged to recruit an extra 500 doctors from overseas between 2016 and 2020, but then expanded the programme and upped the target to 2,000.
The international recruitment programme ran between March 2018 and September 2020. Prior to 2018, a series of local pilots were in operation, which continued to run alongside the national programme.
The figures provided by NHS England only include GPs recruited via the national programme.
Deputy chair of the BMA GP Committee Dr Kieran Sharrock said Brexit was likely to be the main reason for such low take-up because it created significant uncertainty for doctors from across the EU.
He added that general practice in the UK differed from that in other European countries and GPs coming to work may have needed additional training and support.
If this had been unclear in the recruitment programme, this may have posed a problem later, said Dr Sharrock.
He said a ‘long-term structured programme’ was required for overseas recruitment to work.
‘We need a programme where we can make sure that the doctors who come are completely upskilled, otherwise they will choose to not come,’ said Dr Sharrock.
He added that without an active recruitment campaign in place, doctors would opt to work in countries such as Australia, New Zealand, and Canada.
Dr Sharrock also said that a solution is needed for overseas doctors who train as GPs in the UK but then have to leave because they are unable to find a practice able to sponsor them.
He suggested that this could be a five-year visa ‘on the proviso’ that these doctors complete their training and then ‘maybe do a GP fellowship or work in the NHS for the two years following’.
‘But there needs to be a solution, so that doctors who have gone through our vocational training schemes don’t have to leave just because their visa runs out,’ he added.
An NHS spokesperson said: ‘Expanding the GP workforce remains a top priority for the NHS and in fact general practice has recruited over 18,000 more staff to additional roles, such as pharmacists, paramedics and mental health practitioners, since 2019 – ahead of the Government’s target – with record numbers also training to become GPs in the last year.’
This story was first published by our sister publication Pulse.
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