Global envoy for the NHS to be charged with hiring £200,000-a-year foreign consultants

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An NHS ambassador plans to tour the world on a mission to recruit 450 specialists who will be paid a package worth at least £200,000 to spend two years in English hospitals.

An NHS ambassador plans to tour the world on a mission to recruit 450 specialists who will be paid a package worth at least £200,000 to spend two years in English hospitals.

Tony Blair will name a leading doctor today who will act as "special envoy to the NHS" and head a new international fellowship scheme that aims to attract foreign consultants to unfilled hospital posts.

Candidates for the fellowships, which will be concentrated in four main specialties, will be paid according to the UK consultants' salary scale, which ranges from £52,640 to £68,505 a year depending on experience.

But the final salary package will amount to £200,000 because relocation and accommodation expenses will be paid, along with a pension rebate at the end of the two-year visit, worth 12 per cent of annual salary.

Candidates with exceptional reputations in their field of medicine may also receive extra money to reflect the merit awards that are paid to the best UK consultants. Over the next three years, it is hoped that 450 consultants of international repute will sign up for the scheme, which could mean a final bill of at least £90m.

Ministers believe the plan will bring talent, experience and new skills to the NHS at a time when there is an acute shortage of UK-trained consultants.

At least 670 consultancy posts at English hospitals are unfilled, a vacancy rate of 3 per cent. But the figure is much higher in some specialties. Early retirement and the lengthy training for consultants means that shortages cannot be solved overnight.

The plan aims to ease pressure in heart and lung surgery, radiology, histopathology (the identification and diagnosis of diseases) and psychiatry. But a Department of Health spokesman said other specialists could be considered.

"We are looking for significant people in areas where we are lacking long-term expertise and where we haven't got the real crème de la crème at the moment," he said. "Ultimately we want British born-and-bred doctors reaching these echelons. But, in the meantime, we are offering two-year opportunities."

The consultants will be based at large hospitals where they will treat patients on a day-to-day basis. They will also be expected to take part in clinical research, training and visits to other clinics during their stay.

The decision to appoint an envoy follows a concerted drive by the Department of Health to reverse a chronic shortage of GPs by recruiting doctors from Spain, Germany, the United States and the Middle East.

The envoy will attend international conferences and talk to specialists from North America, Europe and Australia. Some may have never worked for a service "that was free at the point of use" and could value the chance to acquire British experience, the Health Department spokesman said.

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