Dr Kailash Chand, one of the senior most British-Asian doctors in the country besides the Chair Healthwatch Tameside and former deputy chair of BMA council, comments of Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s conference speech for Asian Lite News
In his speech to Tory party conference, Jeremy Hunt announced that “from September 2018 we will train up to 1500 more doctors every year” in England in a bid to expand the number of home grown doctors and to replace the 25% of doctors recruited from overseas. The expansion in student numbers is expected to cost roughly £100m for the period up to 2020, but the government said that savings would come from charging international students “the full cost of their medical training” .
Nobody disagrees that, training more doctors in UK is a good idea, but it will need additional money and this administration is cutting £22 billion from the NHS budget. Do I need reminding, if, he has forgotten, that his government cut medical training places by 2% in 2012, and only last year cut the training budget of the HEE (Health education England).
The idea we can be self-sufficient in medical staff by next parliament is ridiculous. An additional 1,500 doctors’ training places only scratches the surface of the professionals that are needed to staff our health service. Some of these will drop out and others choose to work abroad. Primary and secondary care, across many parts of the UK would have to shut down if a regular supply of foreign doctors was not available.
From its inception, the NHS was built with the help of foreign workers and professionals from across the world. Thousands of doctors emigrated from the Indian subcontinent, Africa and Caribbean islands, recruited by a health service afflicted by an acute post-war shortage of medical staff. Currently a quarter of NHS doctors are from overseas, and the NHS has benefited from their talents, their abilities and their will to work with UK trained doctors to improve the health care of British population. We must continue to support them, despite the insecurity caused by the Brexit situation, and reassure them that they are valued and needed.
Many foreign trained workforce in the NHS are already feeling undervalued and unwelcome in this country, particularly after the toxic rhetoric around immigration following the Brexit verdict.
We should be thanking foreign doctors for the work they do rather than implying that we can do without them.
I do not believe in uncontrolled immigration – but I believe the speech of Jeremy Hunt and Theresa May’s interview to Andrew Marr prior to that, is an insult to every one of those doctors and nurses who came to work in Britain’s hospitals. Many of them have faced difficult circumstances, even racism, and an environment in which they are particularly vulnerable to misconduct charges, despite being the cause of no more complaints than their British counterparts.
I have several problems with the Jeremy Hunt’s speech, a policy statement to solve a political – not practical – problem, which I believe at best won’t work and at worst could inflict serious harm on the country’s health service. This country owes- over the years a huge amount of debt to international medics and nurses in every sector of the NHS- and shame on any leader who wishes them away- or even if unknowingly makes them feel so. More medical places are indeed welcome- but there is no need for xenophobic narrative expressed since the referendum to leave EU. In a letter to the Guardian, the presidents of two of the profession’s medical royal colleges tell the health secretary that his move has demoralised overseas doctors already working in the NHS and could deprive it of the long-established supply of foreign medics upon whom it depends. Let’s head the advice of Simon Stevens, head of NHS England recently wrote: “It should be completely uncontroversial to provide early reassurance to international NHS employees about their continued welcome in this country.”