NHS England plans to have contracts in place with recruitment agencies to hire between 2,000 and 3,000 GPs from overseas by November 20, documents reveal.
The controversial new framework agreement of international recruitment service providers is worth an estimated Stg£100 million (€110m) over three years, with NHS England expecting as many as eight providers to bid for the lucrative contracts.
General Practice Forward View (GPFV) – NHS England’s 2016 strategy spelling out a new approach to strengthening general practice – committed £2.4 billion (€2.64bn) of extra funding to the sector. In terms of workforce, the GPFV aims to deliver an additional 5,000 doctors working in general practice before April 2020.
A key part of the GPFV is to recruit a proportion of the additional 5,000 GPs from overseas – mainly from the EU – from Autumn 2017 through to April 2020.
According to tender documents, potential providers will be required to identify and source candidates, lead recruitment campaigns, carry out visa/immigration screening and interview candidates, as well as provide pre-employment screening and basic induction.Non-clinical training services (including off-shore and residential on-shore within England) and relocation services will also be required under the framework agreement.
Electronic auctions – where multiple sellers offer bids on the item, competing to offer the lowest price that meets all of the specifications of the bid – will not be used in the procurement exercise to establish the framework agreement. However, they may be undertaken by participating authorities accessing the resulting agreements, when establishing individual call-off contracts, NHS England has confirmed.
Responding to the plans, Prof Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, welcomed the international recruitment boost to ease GP shortages. “Workload in general practice is escalating: it has risen 16% over the past seven years, yet investment in our service has declined and we are desperately short of GPs and nurses.
“It is imperative that we do everything possible to address this, including recruiting more GPs, retaining existing ones, and making it easier for trained GPs to return to practice after a career break.”
Prof Stokes-Lampard said she welcomed any GP from the EU or further afield who wanted to work in UK general practice – as long as they meet the rigorous standards set by the College and the General Medical Council to ensure safe clinical practice – to contribute to delivering care to over 1 million patients every day.
“NHS England’s GP Forward View has always included introducing 500 appropriately trained and qualified GPs from overseas into our GP workforce. If NHS England are confident that there is appetite to extend this scheme further, then we welcome this aspiration and will do all we can to support them to recruit and safely welcome new GPs to the profession.”
The RCGP Chair stressed that the health service needed the pledges in GP Forward View, including £2.4bn extra a year for general practice and 5,000 more full-time equivalent GPs by 2020, to now be delivered as a matter of urgency.
The British Medical Association (BMA) was more cautious in its response to the recruitment drive, stating that while plans to hire more doctors from overseas may help to provide much needed GPs in the short term, more needed to be done by the UK government to create a “sustainable, long-term basis on which to remedy the huge workforce problems threatening to overwhelm GP services across the country”.
Dr Richard Vautrey, BMA GP Committee Chair, commented: “It is disappointing that once again the latest official figures show only a marginal increase in the GP workforce in England [barely 1%] despite repeated promises by politicians that patients would be seeing thousands more GPs trained in the UK delivering care in the NHS.
“Many GP practices are struggling badly to provide enough appointments and basic services to the public because of endemic staff shortages. A recent BMA poll found that a third of GP practices had vacancies unfilled for more than a year.
“We need the government to not only immediately implement in full the provisions of the GP Forward View but to go beyond this so that Health Education England, NHS England and other bodies are able to recruit and, crucially, retain GPs.”
He feared that far too many GPs were quitting the profession owing to the overworked and underfunded environment they were expected to work in, while medical graduates were “turning their backs on a career in general practice for the same reasons”.