Sir Magdi Yacoub, the pioneering heart surgeon, took charge yesterday of a government campaign to recruit foreign consultants to fill vacant posts in British hospitals.

As the first "special envoy" for the NHS, Sir Magdi will promote British medicine around the world. The 66-year-old surgeon, who was recently forced to stop performing NHS operations because of his age, enjoys an international reputation and knows many of the world's most eminent doctors.

He will head an international fellowship scheme which, over the next three years, will aim to attract 450 specialists in heart and lung surgery, histopathology, radiology and psychiatry, areas where the NHS has acute shortages which cannot be met, in the short-term, by British trainees.

During their two-year postings, the fellows will enjoy "attractive" packages worth about £200,000, including relocation, housing and pension subsidies.

Sir Magdi said: "We have a pressing need to increase the number of heart operations to allow the NHS to achieve its mission in delivering an effective, equitable service."