GP practices across England are expected to get an influx of around 600 family doctors from overseas by April next year, health officials have said.
NHS England said that GP numbers are set to get a “major boost” as it expands an international recruitment drive.
It said around 600 overseas doctors will be recruited into general practice in 2017/18.
And it will aim to recruit at least 2,000 overseas doctors over the next three years.
Initially, plans had been put in place to recruit just 500 doctors from abroad by 2020/21.
It comes as part of a drive to increase the number of family doctors after leading medics raised concerns about increasing workloads and a dwindling workforce.
Overall, health officials aim to increase the number of GPs by 5,000 by 2020.
NHS England said it has established a GP International Recruitment Office to organise and run the scaled up programme operation.
The recruitment scheme will initially focus on medics from the European Economic Area (EEA), whose GP training is recognised in the UK under European law.
These GPs already get automatic recognition to join the GP Register held by the General Medical Council (GMC).
It said the Royal College of GPs and the GMC, will now review the curriculum, training and assessment processes for GPs trained outside the EEA, beginning with Australia, to identify whether the GP registration process for those doctors whose training is seen as equivalent to the UK GP programme can be streamlined.
NHS England said doctors will be expected to meet the “highest standards of practice including being able to speak good English”.
Dr Arvind Madan, NHS England’s director of primary care, said: “Most new GPs will continue to be trained in this country, and general practice will benefit from the 25% increase in medical school places over the coming years.
“But the NHS has a proud history of ethically employing international medical professionals, with one in five GPs currently coming from overseas.
“This scheme will deliver new recruits to help improve services for patients and reduce some of the pressure on hard working GPs across the country.”
Commenting on the announcement, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, said: “We welcome any GP from the EU or further afield who wants to work in UK general practice – as long as they meet the rigorous standards set by the College, General Medical Council and others to ensure safe clinical practice – to contribute to delivering care to over one million patients every day.
“Indeed, thousands of GPs from overseas already work alongside UK GPs, and we are incredibly grateful for their skills and expertise.
“NHS England’s GP Forward View has always included introducing 500 appropriately trained and qualified GPs from overseas into our GP workforce – if NHS England are confident that there is appetite to extend this scheme further, then we welcome this aspiration and will do all we can to support them to recruit and safely welcome new GPs to the profession.
“We need the pledges in NHS England’s GP Forward View, including £2.4bn extra a year for general practice and 5,000 more full-time equivalent GPs by 2020, delivered as a matter of urgency so that we can continue to keep our patients safe now and for years to come – we hope this scheme goes a long way to achieving this, and look forward to working with NHS England and others to make it a success.”
Susan Goldsmith, deputy chief executive of the General Medical Council, added: “We all recognise the pressures faced by the GP workforce at present, and we support the idea of accelerating the recruitment of additional doctors to help ease the situation.
“Doctors from abroad make a huge and vital contribution to health services across the UK, and it is important not to have unnecessary barriers that may discourage them from coming to work here.
“We are committed to working with NHS England, the Royal College of GPs and others to address any such barriers, while continuing to ensure that doctors trained overseas meet the standards patients expect.
“The General Medical Council makes sure that all doctors coming to work in the UK have the necessary knowledge and skills to do so, and we will continue to ensure those requirements are met.”