NHS considers recruiting GPs from India to plug staffing gap
Unions describe move as 'an admission of failure' by the government to train enough UK doctors
The NHS is looking into hiring hundreds of doctors from India in a bid to solve the training and recruitment crisis engulfing the service.
Health Education England (HEE), which coordinates training within the NHS, has signed a memorandum of understanding with an Indian hospital chain, Apollo Hospitals, according to Pulse, the doctors' magazine.
The agreement will serve "as a starting point to exploring how both countries can benefit from the mutual exchange of ideas", says HEE.
However, Apollo Hospitals has said the deal will involve the exchange of clinical staff.
It comes at a time when the NHS is suffering a severe shortage of family doctors. Earlier this week, researchers warned that GP workloads had soared by 16 per cent in the last seven years.
HEE has committed to hiring 5,000 more GPs by 2020, but unions said the recruitment drive was a clear "admission of failure" by the government.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the chairman of the British Medical Association's GP committee, acknowledged that foreign doctors have made a valuable contribution to the NHS, but said the government's pledge to recruit extra GPs "is clearly collapsing into chaos".
The Department of Health, however, insists it is on track to meet its training target.
Senior doctors have also raised concerns that "parachuting" in foreign doctors without adequate assessments could put patient safety at risk.
"This is a most dangerous thing because these doctors are not trained to be GPs in the UK. Their training is entirely different," Dr Umesh Prabhu, a former chairman of the British International Doctors Association, told The Guardian.
Dr Maureen Baker, the chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, dismissed these concerns, saying there would be no shortcuts.
"They would first have to undergo GP specialty training and pass our rigorous entrance assessment," she said. Applicants will also be subjected to a professional language test.