The NHS will recruit 2,000 foreign doctors to meet UK government targets. Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England, announced that four times the planned number of 500 extra doctors are needed to combat skills shortages.
It’s understood that the NHS will look to recruit from countries such as Australia and New Zealand, with doctors needing a Tier 2 visa to live and work in Britain. The European Union will also be targeted in an attempt to attract more doctors.
The government has set a target of recruiting 5,000 additional GPs by 2020. However, it’s highly anticipated that this target will not be met. During an interview with the Health Service Journal, Mr Stevens stated that the NHS is ramping up its international recruitment drive to entice more foreign GPs to the UK.
NHS needs Tier 2 visa workers
Mr Stevens said: “Despite signs of progress with the number of doctors in the GP training scheme, retirements are creating real pressures. As a result, we’ve come to the conclusion that meeting the government’s target of 5,000 more doctors in general practice, means utilising the Tier 2 visa scheme to attract non-EU doctors.”
“EU doctors will also be targeted as part of an international recruitment drive that the NHS plan to launch in the autumn,” Mr Stevens added. Currently, the NHS targets approximately 500 GPs as part of its international recruitment.
However, Mr Stevens argues that it needs to be four times that and the net needs to be cast wider internationally, including the rest of the European Union and countries such as Australia and New Zealand. However, recruiting from non-EU nations could prove problematic.
Tier 2 visa restrictions
Tighter Tier 2 visa rules, including a higher salary threshold for skilled workers and a UK Immigration Skills Charge, would make it costly for the NHS. When quizzed on whether the public sector pay cap should be lifted, Mr Stevens responded by saying that ‘it’s a difficult one.’
‘On the one hand, there’s a sense of fairness across the NHS, indicating that it’s the right thing to do [to lift the cap]. However, if the cap were to be lifted, the NHS would be forced to find extra funding for staff, putting further strain on coffers that are already strained,’ according to Stevens.
Acting chairman of the British Medical Association’s GP committee, Dr Richard Vautrey, said: “For decades, overseas doctors have brought their expertise to the UK, making a valuable contribution to the NHS. This is especially true for general practice, where there’s a proven track record of providing first-class patient care.”
Mr Vautrey claims that the head of NHS England’s announcement highlights government failures to meet its own target of recruiting 5,000 extra GPs, without having to rely on foreign doctors. Vautrey said: “General practice is under intense pressure, trying to cope with rising patient demand, a lack of resources and chronic staff shortages.”
According to Vautrey, a stable, long-term solution is needed to tackle the workload pressures faced by NHS staff. The challenges result in low morale among GPs and create a climate that’s unappealing to medical graduates, hence the reason they don’t pursue a career in general practice.
Overseas recruiting a ‘short-term fix’
In Vautrey’s opinion, ‘applying a sticking plaster by recruiting doctors from abroad can only offer a limited short-term fix, especially when there is uncertainty over freedom of movement following the UK’s exit from the EU.’
Meanwhile, the chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, believes that more must be done to tackle staff shortages. “More GPs need to be hired, we need to retain our existing doctors and make it easier for trained GPs to return to practice following a career break,” she said.
Stokes-Lampard stated that EU doctors, and those from further afield, are most welcome in the UK, ‘provided they adhere to rigorous standards outlined by the College and the General Medical Council, to ensure safe clinical practice.’
She said: “We need the status of EU GPs already working in UK general practice to be safeguarded beyond doubt as part of Brexit negotiations, and we are calling for GPs to be added to the Migration Advisory Committee's shortage occupation list, to make it easier for family doctors from overseas who want to live here and work in UK general practice to do so.”
With the government promising an extra £2.4 billion per year to fund general practice and the recruitment of 5,000 extra, full-time GPs by 2020, Stokes-Lampard insists that additional finances must be delivered as a ‘matter of urgency.’
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