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More family doctors will be recruited from overseas as NHS England strives to meet the growing shortage of GPs.

Following a series of regional pilots, NHS England is accelerating its international recruitment programme and hopes to attract around 600 overseas doctors into General Practice in England during 2017/18. Longer term, it aims to recruit at least 2,000 overseas doctors over the next three years, compared to its previous target of 500 by 2020/21.

As part of the accelerated recruitment programme, NHS England is also setting up a dedicated ‘GP International Recruitment Office’ to organise and manage the operation. It will co-ordinate recruitment, help new recruits with relocation to England and provide support for them in their new roles, working closely with regional and partner organisations.

The recruitment programme will initially focus on doctors from countries within the European Economic Area, whose GP training is already recognised in the UK under European law and who receive automatic recognition to join the General Medical Council’s register of GPs. NHS England is also calling on recruitment firms, both in the UK and Europe, to join a framework to support the recruitment programme.

Moves are also under way to look at recruiting doctors from countries outside the European Economic Area, but whose standard of GP training is seen as equivalent to that in the UK. Beginning with Australia, it will mean reviewing the training of GPs there in order to streamline the process enabling Australian doctors to register as GPs in the UK.

The expanded recruitment programme will help deliver NHS England’s commitment to see 5,000 more GPs and 5,000 more medical professionals working in General Practice by 2020. It is backed up by a pledge to allocate £2.4bn in extra funding to General Practice each year. Plans are in hand to increase the intake into medical schools in England by 25%, but it will be several years before those medical students graduate as fully-qualified doctors.

In the meantime, recruiting qualified doctors from overseas will help bridge the gap. Around a fifth of existing GPs in the UK are international medical graduates. Doctors recruited under the expanded programme will be expected to meet the highest standards of practice, including being able to speak good English.

Commenting on the accelerated overseas recruitment programme, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, 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 one million patients every day. Indeed, thousands of GPs from overseas already work alongside UK GPs, and we are incredibly grateful for their skills and expertise.

Dr Arvind Madan, who is a GP and Director of Primary Care for NHS England, added: “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.”

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