NHS England is setting up a GP International Recruitment Office to help deliver its target of attracting 2,000 overseas doctors to join the GP workforce in England over the next three years.

The international recruitment scheme will initially focus on pulling in doctors in the European Economic Area, whose GP training is recognised in the UK under European law and already get automatic recognition to join the GMC’s GP Register, under plans to have 5,000 more GPs and 5,000 more medical professionals working in general practice by 2020.

According to Dr Arvind Madan, GP and NHS England Director of Primary Care, “most new GPs will continue to be trained in this country, and general practice will benefit from the 25 percent increase in medical school places over the coming years,” but the initiative will also assist in delivering new recruits “to help improve services for patients and reduce some of the pressure on hard working GPs across the country.”

The news comes as the latest dataset on the GP workforce shows an increase of 321 over a three-month period which, while still “a long way off” from reaching the number needed, is “certainly not to be sniffed at,” says Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs.

However, just days ago research by the University of Warwick found that only two in three doctors who are completing their training to become GPs plan to work in NHS general practice.

The online survey of 178 GP trainees found that 62.8 percent expected to be working in six months as a salaried, locum or other non-principal NHS GP, dropping to 33.9 percent at five years, while the proportion expecting to become a GP principal rose from less than 5 percent at six months to a third (33.9 percent) at five years.

“The current situation is very difficult and looks set to get worse,” warned Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation. “The fact that 12 percent of GP positions are vacant and almost one in five practices has had to abandon searching for a new GP shows just how urgently we need to recruit more family doctors.

"GPs from overseas are part of the answer - they have long provided brilliant care for millions of patients in this country and with the right checks for language skills and clinical ability they will be a vital component of the primary care workforce of the future. At the same time it is important that we are expanding the numbers on medical training and that we continue to do more to retain our current GP workforce.”

Prof Lampard stressed the need to continue to “pull out every stop imaginable to recruit more GPs, make it easier for trained GPs to return to practice, and perhaps most importantly address workload and conditions in general practice, so that more GPs stay in our profession, delivering patient care for years to come.”

The pledges made in NHS England’s GP Forward View, including £2.4 billion extra a year for general practice, must be “delivered in full and as a matter of urgency”, Prof Lampard added.