Health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s plans to bring as many 400 doctors from India to the UK are an “admission of failure” of its recruitment policies, says the BMA.

GP publication, Pulse, revealed yesterday that health education bosses had signed a memorandum of understanding with Apollo Hospitals a major hospital chain in India, which would involve the “mutual exchange of clinical staff”. Pulse understood this could involve the transfer of up to 400 GPs to England.

The move, reported the publication, came after its announcement that Hunt was behind on his pledge to increase the GP workforce by 5,000 by 2020.

Responding to the news, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the British Medical Association’s General Practitioners Committee, said: “Doctors from overseas have always provided a valuable contribution to this country’s health system, especially as they undergo a rigorous assessment process to ensure they have the right skills for the NHS.

“However, it is clearly an admission of failure that the government seems to have launched a new recruitment scheme overseas to plug what is clearly a widening gap in the number of homegrown GPs in our workforce.”

Dr Nagpaul added that ministers should launch an urgent support package for general practice. “The Government’s pledge to recruit 5,000 extra GPs by 2020 is clearly collapsing into chaos,” he said.

Doctors from outside the EU would not be ‘parachuted’ into the NHS, said Dr Maureen Baker, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners. “We welcome any expressions of interest from doctors outside of the EU wanting to work in the NHS – but they would first have to undergo GP specialty training, and pass our rigorous entrance assessment. Any suggestions that they will simply be ‘parachuted in’ to practise in the UK is grossly misleading.”

In late March, Pulse revealed that health education chiefs were floundering to deliver Hunt’s promise of 5,000 new doctors. It estimated if current trends continued, just 2,100 new GPs will be delivered by 2020 as a best-case scenario. “There are looming storm clouds that could knock even this optimistic projection off course,” it said. “It does not factor in the harm done by the junior doctor contract dispute and any further damage to GP morale. It also assumes that more UK-trained GPs can be attracted from abroad – an unlikely prospect.”

The publication added that the 10-point plan to train new GPs and attract returners was likely to bring in just a few hundred extra GPs.