NHS proposes recruitment of 2,000 – 3,000 overseas GPs to overcome staff shortage

NHS proposes recruitment of 2,000 – 3,000 overseas GPs to overcome staff shortage

Written by Jordan Odell, Digital Marketing Executive

On the 31st August 2017, NHS England announced plans to give chosen recruitment companies £100m to employ between 2,000 – 3,000 extra GPs from overseas, in a bid to lessen the significant challenges of meeting the planned increased workload of 5,000 new GPs by April 2020, as outlined in the GP Forward View published in April 2016. Although a welcome proposal to many Practices who are struggling to manage staff shortages, concerns have arisen from specialist recruitment agencies who suggest this may not be a realistic approach to the issue.

According to GP Online, NHS England will pay up to £100m to recruitment agencies to hire GPs from abroad, with fees of around £20,000 per GP. Agencies winning the contract will be charged with identifying, screening and interviewing potential candidates, in addition to providing relocation services.

The contract notice posted by NHS England revealed that up to 3,000 doctors are anticipated to come from overseas over a 36 – 48 month period. However, concerns have been raised that the proposed £100m will not be enough to cover the costs of training, and further challenges lie in attracting and retaining talent.

According to Recruiter, one of the named agencies that could be in line to land the contract with government is HCL Workforce. Commenting on the challenges in hitting the government’s target, Claire Billenness, director at HCL, stated ‘It’s an expensive process, it’s long, it’s drawn-out, and there are multiple tests that these GPs have to go through.’

In regards to the figure of £100m, Claire suggested it is likely to be based on frameworks that are at least three years old. Billenness told Recruiter ‘It costs £500,000 to train a GP and seven years to do it, so £20,000 versus £500,000, and six months versus probably five, six, seven years – you start to see the context around it.’

Also speaking to Recruiter, Olivia Spruce, director at TFS Healthcare, called the government’s target “ambitious”.

‘To employ 2,500 foreign GPs over a 3.5-year timescale, among only eight agencies, which haven’t been awarded yet – the tender process has only just started – is highly ambitious, and fees of around £20,000 per GP feels very speculative.’

NHS England expansion of the programme

This news comes as a scaling up target of the original 500 extra recruitments by 2020 to strengthen the primary care workforce, as part of the General Practice Forward View plan published early last year. 

NHS England has released this significant increase in figures due to concerns that although the number of GP training places are on the rise, it is well known that the current figure of FTE GPs is decreasing, as more Practioners, whether seasoned or newly qualified, are turning to Locum work rather than stay, or join, a practice. Because of this, there is a noticeable shortfall with the number of GPs that are staying on to practice, and the number of new recruits.

To overcome this shortfall, NHS England has published a planned recruitment process to support GPs who are coming to England from abroad, stating ‘we are working with Partners to partly bridge that gap through scaling up targeted international recruitment of up to a total of 3,000 overseas doctors over the next three years.’

Their proposed plan includes:

  • Rapidly expanding the current international recruitment programme of doctors from the European Economic Area (EEA) whose GP training is recognised in the UK under European Law and already get recognition to join in the GMC’s GP register.
  • Expanding the scale of the programme by having a Framework Agreement of International Recruitment providers to identify potential overseas doctors and support them through the recruitment process.
  • Quickly establish a GP International Recruitment Office to run this scaled up recruitment operation, which will coordinate the recruitment, support for, and relocation of recruited doctors by working closely with regional and local committees and partner organisations.
  • Continuing to invite proposals from STPs and CCGs, coordinated on behalf of local practices by the end of November, to be part of this expanded national scheme.
  • Encouraging over 4,000 current international medical graduates who register to practice in the UK each year to consider applying for GP training places, given that these are not yet filled at 100% levels.
  • The RCGP, working with the GMC, will now review the curriculum, training and assessment processes for GPs trained outside the EEA, beginning with Australia, to identify whether NHS England can streamline the GP registration process for those doctors whose training is seen as equivalent to the UK GP programme.

The programme will work to some fundamental principles:

  • Doctors will need to meet the highest standards of practice and speak good English.
  • The NHS is bound by the World Health Organisations (WHO) Global code of practice on the International recruitment of health personnel.
  • Look to attract UK trained doctors back from abroad, and will ensure UK based GPs will not be disadvantaged.
  • The NHS will target those countries where there is likely to be the best chance of affordable supply.

*Details taken from NHS Online

The plan comes as a welcome reprise and is arguably well needed, as many Practices are feeling the pressures of short staffing, relying on Locum GPs to cover sessions.

Recently, Lincolnshire LMC backed a petition launched by Lincolnshire A&E doctors calling for government to include GPs to the Migration Advisory Council (MAC) list of occupations, which has relaxed its visa rules, in order to meet the challenge of GP shortages.

The petition said GPs should be added because 'GP Practices in rural areas struggle to recruit doctors, forcing many surgeries to close'.

It also added: 'There are many GPs from outside the EU who would like to work in the UK. However, Practices can’t offer them a job without going through the visa bureaucracy, and the NHS is losing many good doctors as a result.'

The petition is quickly gaining traction, with around 700 signatures in the first three days, with hopes that it could improve on the number of recruited overseas GPs in order the meet the GP Forward View targets, though as suggested earlier by specialist recruiters Claire Billenness of HCL and Olivia Spruce of TFS, this still may not be enough to secure an increase of GPs to England, as the problem may lie in the lack of funds, talent attraction and retention.

If you are a doctor coming to work in the UK from abroad, visit the NHS Health Careers page, and make sure you are covered for Indemnity. You’ve worked hard to get where you are, and in an age of easy-access litigation (or threat of litigation), you want to take steps to avoid the immense costs involved in defending a legal action. Visit our Professional Indemnity and Liability page to find out more. Alternatively, contact our Specialist Indemnity Insurance Adviser, Montrose Bill on, 01438 870735, or email montrose.bill@miab.co.uk.

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