As general practice faces a growing staffing crisis, the NHS has said it will pay up to £100m to agencies to recruit 5,000 new GPs, mostly from abroad.
In a contract notice posted by NHS England, the health service says it will start its recruitment drive in the autumn, with the aim of achieving its goal of 5,000 more GPs by 2020.
Agencies such as Hays, Reed, and Healthcare Locums among others may be awarded contracts in which they will work together and spend an estimated £20,000 in fees to recruit each GP, with 2,000 to 3,000 GPs expected to be recruited from overseas.
The recruitment drive is hoping to plug staffing gaps left as current GPs are preparing to retire – many of them early.
In a wide-ranging survey of GPs, the British Medical Association (BMA) found that a third of all GPs are planning on retiring within the next five years because of excessive workloads. Another third reported that they are planning on going part-time.
Concerns over general practice are mounting further after it was revealed earlier this month that trainee GPs – like their counterparts planning on retiring early – are turning away from working in the NHS because of work/life balance issues. A third said they did not see themselves working for the NHS in general practice after five years.
Staffing problems have been compounded by years of severe underinvestment in the health service and increasing patient demand. In the last seven years alone, GP workloads have skyrocketed by 16 per cent, with 80 per cent of GPs reporting they believed workloads were either ‘unmanageable’ or ‘excessive’.
Although it is not yet clear what impact Brexit will have on GP numbers, the Royal College of GPs found the status of over 2,000 UK GPs from the EU is threatened if they do not receive guarantees in Brexit negotiations. If these GPs were forced to leave, more than 3m patients will be left without a GP.
Initial plans to hit the 5,000 new GP target by 2020 included recruiting only 500 family doctors from abroad, but revised plans announced in July upped international recruitment to more than 2,000.
Last month, it was revealed that NHS Professionals, a public agency that provides essential staffing for the health service, may be sold – a move that has drawn criticism from campaigners who have highlighted that the agency saves the NHS £70m each year because it does not charge the much higher recruitment fees of private agencies.
Dr David Wrigley, a GP in Lancashire and chair of Doctors in Unite, said that the latest move by the government to recruit GPs from overseas by paying private recruitment firm fees of up to £100m is “just another example of a disastrous failure by this government.”
“If only they had listened to the profession years ago and increased recruitment from UK doctors we would not have to spend £100m of taxpayers’ money on this scheme,” he said.
“Doctors in the UK are at their wits end and unable to provide the care to their patients that they deserve,” Dr Wrigley added.
“This is due to a year on year shortfall in NHS funding and constant denigration of NHS workers by the government who are more likely to spend time listening to friends in the City than doctors, nurses and others working their socks off in the NHS.”