The number of trainee doctors recruited to work in England’s overstretched accident and emergency departments has increased to its highest ever level, Health Education England has revealed.

More than 340 junior doctors will be joining A&E departments this year, an increase of 102 compared with last year.

The rise is due in part to a £50m drive by the education and training body to boost training numbers and attract new recruits at middle grade levels over the next three years.

In addition to increasing the recruitment of junior doctors to A&E through the traditional “acute care common stem” route – up 108 from last year – HEE has also attracted medics through a variety of initiatives.

Under its new “run through” training programme, which means medics need not reapply as they progress through their career, 60 new recruits were attracted to take up posts in A&Es.

A further 61 doctors were recruited through a new “defined entry” route.

Under this, doctors initially trained in other specialties were given a chance to transfer straight into emergency medicine without starting their training again.

A drive to recruit 50 overseas doctors has been less successful with approximately 30 doctors from India, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt offered roles in the NHS.

The remaining 20 posts are due to be filled within the next few months.

Each applicant must satisfy visa and language requirements before starting work in the NHS.

Dr Cliff Mann, president of the College of Emergency Medicine, told HSJ: “It does look as though for the first time in three or four years we have actually improved the situation rather than worsened it.

“If a year ago I had said we would be able to double the numbers of people coming in at years one, two and three most people would have thought we were mad but that is what we have managed to do.”

Dr Mann said the challenge now for the NHS was to maintain the levels of recruitment and tackle issues around retention.

He added: “If we can do this for three years and we stop people leaving at ST4 [specialist registrar] level, within five years we could be fully recruited in emergency medicine up to consultant level.

“This has a timeframe of a single parliament; it is a prize worth chasing by everybody because it will be on our watch if it is delivered.”

A spokesman for Health Education England told HSJ: “These initiatives from HEE represent a major workforce investment.

“They will ensure availability of more doctors in emergency medicine in 2014, both in terms of appropriately qualified middle grade doctors and additional trainees for the future, to help ensure that patients receive consistent, high quality, safe and effective care.”

He added: “We are promoting sustainable solutions for the medical workforce and the development of other roles to support patient care in emergency medicine departments, such as advanced clinical practitioners, physician associates and paramedics.”

This story was amended at 15.35 on 19/8/2014 to update the number of trainee doctors from 108 to 102 as a result of new information received from Health Education England post-publication