Lack of foreign doctors poses risks to British healthcare: BMA

May 8th, 2008 - 7:44 pm ICT by admin  

By Dipankar De Sarkar
London, May 8 (IANS) The British government’s attempts to restrict career opportunities for foreign doctors could threaten patient services in Britain, the British Medical Association (BMA) says. “International medical staff are keeping services running. Three in 10 junior doctors are now working on an understaffed rota - partly a result of the fact that many of our overseas colleagues have already grown disillusioned and left the NHS (National Health Service),” Terry John, chairman of the BMA’s International Committee, said Thursday.

The comments came after the House of Lords ruled against government guidance restricting training opportunities for doctors who have to come to Britain on Highly Skilled Migrant Programme (HSMP) visas.

As a result of the ruling, foreign doctors who already have HSMP status will be able to compete for training posts with their British colleagues.

However, the Department of Health is still consulting on other proposals to manage medical migration, including charging foreign doctors for their postgraduate training.

The BMA has called for “long-term workforce planning rather than knee-jerk reactions”.

It says that “removing the pool of international medical graduates from the UK altogether will destabilise rotas” and warns that this would “ultimately place patients at risk”.

“We agree that in the long-term the UK should be able to produce and sustain its own medical workforce. However, knee-jerk solutions are likely to have a negative impact on services. There is an urgent need to improve workforce planning so we can be realistic about the chances of training and working in this country,” John said.

From August 2009, the number of hours junior doctors can spend in hospital will fall from 56 a week to 48 as a result of a European directive.

The BMA said this will heighten the risks posed by a smaller pool of foreign doctors: “In the long-term the BMA is concerned that the introduction of the guidance would have significant repercussions on workforce capacity.”

Welcoming a debate on the numbers of doctors coming to Britain in future, the BMA has nevertheless consistently argued for the rights of those already working in the NHS, pointing out that they arrived in the legitimate expectation of competing for training opportunities.

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