• CCG leaders told to plan for around half the number of overseas recruits that were previously expected
  • NHS England had previously aimed to recruit “at least” 2,000 overseas doctors.
  • National body said the success of the programme depends on the number of applicants and practices willing to hire them

Local health chiefs have been told to significantly reduce their expectations for the number of GPs that will be hired through NHS England’s international recruitment programme.

Some clinical commissioning group leaders said they have been told to plan for around half the number of overseas recruits that were previously expected.

In August 2017, NHS England announced a “major boost” to GP recruitment, and set out a target to recruit “at least” 2,000 overseas doctors by 2020-21.

But three local sources, spoken to by HSJ, have been told the target is unlikely to be achieved.

One had been told to reduce their expectations “by half” this year, another was told “by more than half” and claimed ”NHS England are really struggling with the scheme”.

Meanwhile, July committee papers for Great Yarmouth and Waveney and Swale CCGs said the number of recruits expected from NHS England’s international recruitment scheme has “significantly reduced”.

In a statement to HSJ, NHS England said it was now aiming to recruit “up to” 2,000 overseas GPs. It said this would depend on the number of qualified individuals available, and practices wanting to hire them.

It also said it will now be widening its search to countries beyond Europe, after previously stating it would focus on Europe until March 2019.

The international recruitment campaign was launched to help address worrying shortages of GPs in England.

As part of the 2,000 target, NHS England said it would “start to recruit around 600 overseas doctors into general practice in 2017-18”. But according to the latest forecast of actual recruitment numbers, 100 were recruited in the year.

It comes after former health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt admitted the government would struggle to meet its commitment to have 5,000 more GPs, including those from overseas, working in the NHS by 2020.

A spokeswoman for NHS England said: “The NHS is pulling out all the stops to recruit as many highly talented international GPs as we can, aiming for up to 2,000 depending on the number of qualified individuals available and practices wanting to hire.

“We’ve started in Europe and will now be widening the range of countries involved. At the same time, we are increasing our investment in a range of ways to support GPs to stay in practice, such as the Local GP Retention Fund.”