London: Nearly 5,000 Indian doctors have so far returned home after failing to find suitable employment in Britain's National Health Service (NHS) that forced them to live with rats, cockroaches and scrounge for free meals in temples and gurdwaras.
The figure of 5,000 returning to India is since April 2006 when changes were made to immigration rules. The changes were challenged by the Indian medical community in court but a judicial review was disallowed by the high court February 9.
Leaders of the Indian medical community say that the figure of 5,000 is approximate and that the actual figure could be more. The returning doctors had passed the requisite tests for employment in the NHS, but had failed to find jobs mainly due to a larger pool of available doctors from within Britain and the European Union and NHS budgetary cuts.
Many more Indian doctors face the prospect of returning home after the February 9 ruling. All attention is now focussed on the ongoing recruitment process for 21,000 NHS jobs starting August 2007. The current recruitment is part of a new system called Modernising Medical Careers (MMC) that came into effect this year.
From Jan 22 to February 4, more than 30,000 doctors applied for the 21,000 available jobs in various specialities - and of them 10,000-12,000 applicants are said to be Indians. Short-listing of candidates for the jobs is expected to be completed by February 24 and interviews will take place in the first week of March.
Leaders of the Indian medical community are working to ensure that the Indian applicants in the current round are not adversely affected in the recruitment process by the February 9 ruling of the high court. Those who are not selected in this round will also face the prospect of returning home.
Lakshman Raman, vice-chair (policy) of the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO), told IANS that if the new rules issued in April 2006 were applied, there would be practically two shortlists for the NHS posts - one of British and EU citizens and another pile of Indian and other overseas doctors.
"We will need to apply for a stay order only if the department of health (DoH) does not agree to hold the new rules in abeyance while awaiting the appeal. They are still considering their options and will get back to us on this."
The BAPIO legal team is working on the appeal petition that can be filed within three weeks of the February 9 ruling. Raman said that BAPIO had decided to file the appeal before March 2 and had launched another fund-raising drive among Indian doctors to meet legal costs.
Raman added that a major reason for the large number of unemployed Indian doctors in Britain was the increased frequency of holding the mandatory qualifying test called the Professional and Linguistic Assessment Board (PLAB) test.
Every overseas doctor needs to pass this test before being registered for possible employment. Earlier this test used to be held twice or thrice a year. Now it is held twice or thrice a week. The success rate is also higher with the result that there are now more doctors who have cleared the test.
According to official figures, nearly 1,000 passed the test in 1998, but the number sprung to 6,666 in 2005. One part of the PLAB test is held in centres in India while another is held in London.
So high was the unemployment among Indian doctors who had passed the PLAB tests but were unable to find unemployment that one of them, Surinder Sareen, wrote a funny-if-not-serious account in the British Medical Journal in February 2006 of the condition such doctors found themselves in.
Calling it the PPUD (Post PLAB Unemployment Doctor) Syndrome, Sareen detailed a series of ailments such doctors suffered from, including depression, insomnia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, hallucinations, somnambulism, omniphagia, dissociative fugue and muskoskeletal deformities.
Sareen wrote: "In an effort to keep up an old medical tradition, I report a new syndrome, prevalent in the age group 25-35, but some cases are seen in the early 40s. Both sexes are equally affected. It is endemic in east London, but sporadic cases can be seen all over Britain. It is mostly found in immigrants from the Indian subcontinent."
His treatment for the PPUD Syndrome: "Love and a healing touch. Patients should be encouraged to go back to their home country, as in Britain even local graduates find it difficult to get a job and nobody is bothered about someone with PPUD syndrome."