A fifth of GPs in England are from overseas, new research suggests.
Overseas family doctors typically account for 21.1% of the English GP workforce, according to a University of Manchester study.
Researchers said that doctors who did their medical training outside of the UK tended to work in the country’s most deprived communities.
These medics played a “critical role in the delivery of NHS GP services”, the authors added.
Doctors who trained abroad typically worked longer hours, treated more patients, but were paid less than their UK qualified counterparts, researchers said.
Their study, published in the journal BMC Medicine, found that 4.1% of GPs working in England trained in the EU.
The study, based on data from nine in every 10 of the nation’s GP surgeries, found that a further 17% trained outside Europe.
Regions found to be most heavily dependent on non-UK qualified GPs included the Greater London area, the East of England, the North West and North East.
Compared to UK qualified doctors, doctors who qualified in the European Economic Area (EEA) were found to work longer hours, while doctors who qualified outside both the EEA and the UK worked longer hours still.
Meanwhile average pay per patient was £133, £132 and £129 for UK, EEA and elsewhere-qualified GPs respectively.
Lead author Professor Aneez Esmail, from The University of Manchester, said: “Overseas doctors have always been part of the solution and have provided a valuable remedy to the shortage of GPs in England, this needs to be acknowledged by policy-makers and our politicians.
“Rather than tightening immigration policy, the Department of Health should do more to support and harness international talent in alleviating the growing GP crisis.”
Meanwhile a separate survey of 1,845 doctors from across the UK found that only a third would recommend medicine as a career to their children.
The survey from the Royal Medical Benevolent Fund found that 67% of British doctors would not recommend that their children follow in their footsteps and pursue a career in medicine.
The UK charity for doctors, medical students and their families has launched a new campaign to encourage doctors in difficulty to reach out.
It said that each year it supports hundreds of doctors and their families who are struggling with financial concerns, ill health or addiction.
A Department of Health spokesman said: “We are determined to ensure we have the right numbers of GPs in every area of the country – from next year trainees will be offered £20,000 to work in hard-to-recruit-to areas and NHS England is recruiting 2,000 GPs from overseas.
“Last year we recruited the highest ever number of GP trainees as we expand medical training places by 25% and we’re backing the profession with an extra £2.4 billion in funding.”