Britain's medical community has resoundingly voted to oppose the government's proposal to restrict the employment opportunities for Indian and other non-European Union doctors in the National Health Service (NHS). In a survey conducted by the British Medical Association (BMA) this week, members voted to oppose tighter restrictions on the employment opportunities of overseas doctors and medical students.
Britain's Health Minister Ben Bradshaw has recently drawn up proposals to slash the number of junior doctors from overseas coming to Britain to train. The idea is to preserve jobs for the rising number of British medical graduates.
The proposal is that doctors from countries outside the EU should not be considered for a job unless there are no qualified applicants from Britain or from elsewhere in Europe. This is an unlikely scenario given the popularity of medical training in Britain and the EU.
During the recent rounds of recruitment to the NHS, several hundred British doctors who could not find employment left the country as the issue snowballed into a major public controversy through demonstrations and petitions. There is also a proposal that fresh British medical graduates would automatically get a first-year hospital training place on graduation, which would give them a head start over even other European candidates.
But BMA's survey released at a conference this week revealed that almost two-thirds (64 percent) of the 737 doctors and medical students surveyed believe that overseas students graduating from UK medical schools should not be prevented from competing for training jobs. Over half (57.4 percent) think that doctors who qualified overseas should be entitled to compete for training posts with UK graduates, although most of these thought that this should apply only to those already working in the NHS.
Hamish Meldrum, chairman of council at the BMA, said: "The government has made a mess of medical training. It appears they are now trying to penalise the thousands of overseas doctors and medical students who want to work in the NHS." Other key findings of the survey include: Half of respondents oppose the idea of a national computerised examination on entry to core specialist training; Eight in 10 respondents agree with recommendations that medical career structures should be the same across the UK.
In a separate submission to the Department of Health's consultation on proposals to restrict employment opportunities to overseas doctors, the BMA said the proposals were 'unfair'. The BMA said in its submission that "medical immigration" should be better controlled in future, but was concerned for the welfare of thousands of doctors and medical students from overseas who are already in the UK.
Terry John, chair of the BMA's International Committee, said: "Long-term, the UK should be able to produce its own medical workforce and managing medical immigration in the future will be necessary. "However, the thousands of overseas junior doctors currently providing essential services in UK hospitals must not be scapegoated for the government's poor workforce planning. They came to the UK in good faith, and the honest expectation of training opportunities in the NHS."
The BMA is particularly concerned about overseas students currently spending large amounts of money - an average of 23,000 pounds a year during their clinical years - to study at UK medical schools.
John added: "International medical students are often making huge personal and financial sacrifices in order to study in the UK. If they are not allowed to apply for postgraduate training posts, and are forced to return home, they could face a huge struggle in repaying outstanding debts."
The BMA said it was aware that this would also adversely affect UK medical schools, which rely heavily on income from overseas students.