The NHS needs to reduce barriers preventing the recruitment of international doctors, a leading medical educator has warned.

Richard Olds, the president of St George’s University in Grenada, told HSJ the “severe” GP shortages in the UK is “impacting the care of the population”, but there are an “incredible number of barriers” preventing international trainees from filling these gaps.

Last month Health Education England and St George’s University signed an agreement enabling up to 100 medical graduates to do their postgraduate training in England, starting from this autumn.

Graduates will undertake one or two foundation years as part of the NHS’ Widening Access to Specialty Training (WAST) Programme, an initiative within the NHS that recruits overseas postgraduate doctors. This will be followed by specialty training with a focus on GP and psychiatry.

The location of training for those on the programme will be assigned by HEE, with most programmes focusing on areas of acute shortage, predominantly in the Midlands, East, North and South West of England, Yorkshire, and the Humber.

“You have a shortage of GPs and geographic maldistribution and here is a potential way to solve that problem,” Dr Olds said. “No one would have changed the status quo if it wasn’t for the fact your system isn’t delivering what society needs.”

“This hasn’t been a smooth process,” Dr Olds said. “This has taken us over two years.” He added that getting the trainees’ visas could have been “made easier” to allow the students to complete their training in England.

Dr Olds stressed while international medical schools are an “intermediate” solution to the workforce problems in the NHS, he said in the long term a universal criteria for physicians needs to be developed to create an “international market”.

He added: “You’re going to have to [recruit more international GPs] in the short term no matter what, there is no other solution. You cannot train enough GPs, even with the addition of new medical schools.”

Dr Olds added there is a need to build medical schools in England that are “structured differently to your existing schools”.

“It’s like bailing a canoe with a sieve,” he said. “If your existing schools are training people who want to be specialists in London, adding more schools like that won’t help you.”