NHS launches £100m drive to recruit foreign GPs
The NHS in England is to pay recruitment agencies £100m as part of a huge international drive to boost the number of GPs.
Contracts have been put out to tender that could see half of the extra 5,000 GPs promised by 2020 brought in from abroad.
It comes as the NHS continues to struggle to train and retain its home-grown GPs.
Support staff, including nurses and therapists, will also be targeted.
NHS bosses said the move was needed to relieve the pressure on the service.
The international recruitment is part of a £2.4bn investment in GP services by 2020.
The boost in funding - a rise of 14% once inflation is taken into account - was announced after the 2015 election, during which the Conservatives made increasing the GP workforce a key priority.
It was always envisaged that some of the extra 5,000 doctors would come from abroad, but the contracts being offered could lead to 3,000 of them coming from outside the UK.
NHS bosses are also in the process of increasing the number of training places for GPs - but last year 7% of spots went unfilled.
The agencies bidding for them will be expected to cover the costs of relocation, recruitment and any extra training that is needed.
The aim is to start recruiting in the autumn with EU doctors being targeted first.
Dr Arvind Madan from NHS England, said: "The NHS has a proud history of ethically employing international medical professionals, with one in five GPs currently coming form 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."
Royal College of GPs chair Prof Helen Stokes-Lampard said the NHS was "incredibly grateful for the skills and expertise" of GPs from overseas.
But she said: "We welcome any GP from the EU or further afield who wants to work in general practice - as long as they meet the rigorous standards set by the College, General Medical Council and others to ensure safe clinical practice."
Dr Krishna Kasaraneni of the British Medical Association, predicted that even with the recruitment of doctors from abroad, the government would still fall "well short of its target of recruiting 5,000 new GPs by 2020".