Government proposals to restrict employment opportunities for overseas doctors currently working in the UK are unfair, the BMA says today (Wednesday 24 October, 2007).
The Department of Health in England is currently consulting on the rules that should apply to medical graduates from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) when applying to specialist training posts next year. The BMA believes that "medical immigration" should be better controlled in future, but is concerned for the welfare of thousands of doctors and medical students from overseas who are already in the UK.
Dr Terry John, chair of the BMA's International Committee, says:
"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 Ģ23,000 a year during their clinical years - to study at UK medical schools.
Dr John adds: "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 is aware that this would also adversely affect UK medical schools, which rely heavily on income from overseas students. The BMA's evidence to the consultation says:
Non-UK nationals studying medicine in the UK should be allowed to complete their entire postgraduate medical training in this country
Doctors already in the UK on the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme should be allowed to compete for training posts on an equal footing with UK and EEA graduates, as should refugee doctors
The UK departments of health have a responsibility to advise non-EEA doctors currently outside the country that training and employment prospects in the UK are minimal.