Government attempts to restrict career opportunities for overseas doctors in the UK could threaten patient services, the BMA says.
Last week the House of Lords ruled against government guidance restricting training opportunities for doctors on the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme (HSMP). Under the new points-based immigration system, overseas doctors who already have HSMP status will be able to compete for training posts with their UK colleagues.
However, the Department of Health is still consulting on other proposals to manage medical migration, including charging overseas doctors for their postgraduate training.
The BMA's response to the consultation calls 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".
Dr Terry John, Chairman of the BMA's International Committee, says:
"International medical staff are keeping services running. Three in ten 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.
"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."
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 the European Working Time Directive. The BMA response says this heightens the risks posed by a smaller pool of overseas doctors: "In the long-term the BMA is concerned that the introduction of the guidance would have significant repercussions on workforce capacity."
While the BMA welcomes a debate on numbers of doctors coming to the UK in future, it has 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.