by Nadeem Badshah
THE NHS has been urged to tackle its recruitment crisis by again turning to doctors from south Asia in order to reduce the workload of stressed GPs.
Health bosses are offering £18,500 as “relocation support” to British GPs working abroad if they return home. It is part of a scheme that aims to bring back hundreds of GPs out of retirement and on career breaks. Doctors will be put on an “induction and refresher” placement in a practice and paid a bursary of £3,500 a month.
They will then have up to four funded attempts at passing a competency assessment after which they can apply for a GP job and expect to earn an average of £70,000 a year.
Dr Chandra Kanneganti, chair of the British International Doctors Association, believes the
scheme is “not “sustainable” and the NHS should instead focus on medics working in the UK and look to recruit from south Asia.
The Staffordshire-based medic told Eastern Eye: “It’s unfortunate as their (NHS) own doctors are leaving. They are spending so much money rather than focusing on the doctors here.
“Five of my colleagues recently moved to Canada because of the better workload; it is heavy here.
“They should spend money on retaining experienced people who trained here and are about to retire early to stay back and support the NHS.
“Why would doctors in Australia and New Zealand come here? Doctors from the Indian subcontinent have been the bedrock and the backbone of the NHS as GPs working in inner cities.
“The NHS have failed in the process of recruitment. They restricted the number of migrants
from the Indian subcontinent and the Home Office has labour market testing, they have to prove a job given to an overseas doctor cannot be filled by a person from the UK – the rules do not make any sense.”
Nearly 800 GPs have taken part in the “relocation support’ initiative, but the NHS relaunched the move in March in a bid to recruit hundreds more to tackle the shortage.
The government pledged in 2015 to hire 5,000 new GPs by 2020. But the latest figures show the NHS had just 28,596 fully qualified GPs working in England in December 2018 – 593 fewer than 12 months previously.
Dr Krishna Kasaraneni is the British Medical Association’s GP committee executive team lead for workforce.
He welcomed the scheme, but believes the government needs to address the mounting workloads faced by family doctors and the risk of EU medics leaving after Brexit.
Dr Kasaraneni told Eastern Eye: “Recruitment and retention remains one of the key pressures facing general practice, with the number of full-time equivalent GPs steadily falling, despite pledges by the government to increase numbers by the thousands.
“Therefore, when experienced GPs take time away from the country or from practice for whatever reasons, it is vital they are given support if they wish to return.
“We are pleased that this particular scheme has proven successful so far and we welcome the renewed backing for experienced doctors who want to bring their skills and expertise back to British general practice.
“Similarly, our colleagues from overseas have much to offer in terms of skill and experience and form a valuable section of our workforce.”
Dr Kasaraneni added: “Schemes to recruit them to the NHS cannot be seen as the magic solution to the recruitment crisis.
“Crucially, if we wish to see more GPs join and stay in general practice, we must tackle the existing workload pressures and high stress working environments.
“We hope the recent five-year GP contract deal agreed between ourselves and NHS England – which will eventually see more than 20,000 additional staff in practices across the country – will lay the groundwork for this and make general practice a more attractive prospect.”
Meanwhile, the country’s three main health think-tanks warned patients will have to get used to seeing a pharmacist or physiotherapist instead of a family doctor because the NHS will not overcome its lack of GPs.
The report by the King’s Fund, the Nuffield Trust and the Health Foundation in March said: “The shortfall in the number of GPs is so serious that it cannot be filled at all. The only way forward is to use the skills of other staff, including pharmacists and physiotherapists,
much more widely and routinely in and alongside general practice.”
The difficulties of recruiting enough medical graduates to train as GPs and retaining family doctors means the shortfall will almost treble from 2,500 to 7,000 by 2023-24, according to the report.
Dr Nikita Kanani, from NHS England, said: “General practice is the bedrock of the health service and is a priority as part of the NHS Long Term Plan.
“This is just one of several plans we have, including having more trainees in place than ever before.
“We understand the pressures GPs are under and have invested an extra £978 million in core general practice funding by 2023-24 as part of the contract, together with a pledge to recruit more than 20,000 healthcare workers to support family doctors over the next five years.”
Richard Murray, chief executive of the King’s Fund, said hospital bosses should fly to cities including Delhi and Dubai to help hire more foreign nurses. He warned leaving recruitment to private agencies risked Britain losing the “international competition” for NHS staff.
Research forecasts that nurse shortages in England will double to 70,000 in 2023-24 at the current rate, partly blaming the four per cent drop in domestic applications on the abolition of bursaries for nursing students in 2016.
NHS chiefs are recruiting fewer trained nurses from abroad than in 2001, around 1,600 currently, and should aim to increase this by 5,000, the report said.