As the NHS faces massive gaps in general practice, hundreds of GPs are being willingly recruited from India in order to plug the hole.
This decision is intended to help meet the government pledge to add 5,000 family doctors to the UK stock by the end of the decade.
With this aim in mind, Health Education England, the non-departmental body of the Department of Health responsible for NHS training, has signed a “memorandum of understanding” with a major hospital chain in India.
Apollo Hospitals will transfer as many as 400 general practitioners to England, but the details are still under discussion according to government sources.
“These are initial discussions but we look forward to announcing the outcomes of this work over the coming months and years as it progresses,” a spokesperson from Apollo hospitals commented.
The move to recruit more doctors from the Asian subcontinent follows a statement from doctors’ leaders which indicates that general practice is in crisis and that the sector is nearing saturation point.
Workloads increased by 16% over the last seven years as family doctors in England deal with more frequent and longer consultations.
Meanwhile, the rate of GPs has decreased, at least according to a major study that was published in the Lancet just last month.
Despite the pledge of the Conservative party to increase the stock of doctors in the UK by 5,000, it seems that the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt will ultimately struggle to meet this aim.
Dr Umesh Prabhu, former chair and current member of the British International Doctors Association executive committee and a consultant paediatrician in Wigan, has stated that recruiting doctors from India sets a dangerous precedent, and it is a policy that the government should be avoiding.
“These doctors are not trained to be GPs in the UK and my biggest worry is around vulnerable patients, such as child abuse. Their training is entirely different. I have concerns for the doctors’ safety and the patients’ safety.”
Dr Maureen Baker, Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, indicated that any doctors arriving from outside the EU would have to pass the GMC’s Professional Linguistic and Assessments Board test.
“Any suggestions that they will simply be ‘parachuted in’ to practise in the UK is grossly misleading. The RCGP has had a longstanding partnership with Apollo Medvarsity in India, and we accredit their Diploma in Family Medicine – but this recognises excellence in family medicine at an International level. It is not a shortcut to becoming a GP in the UK,” Baker commented.
Yet the level of understaffing in the NHS is such that even this drastic recruitment policy may be insufficient.
Experts have asserted that even if 10,000 new doctors were found overnight that the NHS would still be unable to deal with existing demand.