For the first time in recent decades, the number of Indian doctors coming to Britain has shown a major decline, mainly due to a growing private health sector in India, immigration restrictions and perceptions of unfair treatment at work in the National Health Service (NHS).
Britain has long been the first port of call for Indian doctors seeking postgraduate qualifications and experience of working in the NHS. From a trickle in the 1950s, large numbers of Indian doctors came here in the 1970s and the early 2000s.
However, as figures from regulator General Medical Council (GMC) indicate, there has been a sharp drop: from 3640 in 2004 to 340 in 2013. A new British study published last week that questions the competence of foreign doctors has added to negative perceptions.
Several Indian doctors who moved to Britain years ago told HT that conditions had become increasingly difficult. The number of those who have returned to India, or moved to better conditions in the US, Canada or Australia, after working in the NHS in recent years is said to be in the hundreds, and growing.
Ramesh Mehta, president of the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (Bapio), said: “There are lots of opportunities in the private health sector in India now. New visa rules that restrict stay of overseas doctors here to only two years has added to the drop”.
He added: “Another major issue is the way Indian doctors are treated. News travels fast these days. There is institutional racism in the NHS. The system is not fair, there are many cases of Indian doctors facing discrimination. Together, these factors are putting off Indian doctors from coming here”.
Terming it as an “unfortunate situation” for the NHS, Mehta said hard working Indian doctors were liked by patients and were long considered its ‘backbone’. Unless British authorities improved the situation soon, the NHS will face another shortage of doctors.
Currently, 68,116 doctors in the NHS gained their primary medical qualifications in countries outside Britain and the European Union. They include 25,092 (as of 2014) doctors who qualified in India and later passed the necessary tests to register with GMC and work in the NHS.
Private hospitals from India who have recently recruited Indian doctors working in the NHS – particularly surgeons and cancer specialists – include Apollo, Reliance, Max Health, Fortis and Rainbow.
Birmingham-based Madhur Rao, who trained and practised in Pune, said several of his colleagues had returned to India or were considering doing so, mainly due to better career prospects, salaries that were equal to or better than those in the NHS, and the prospect of returning to look after their parents.
Rao said: “It is a win-win situation. The salaries in India are exceedingly good now. The quality of life is better in India, thanks to the availability of domestic help. There are also Indian doctors who don’t want their children to grow up in Britain, and return after some training here”.
An Indian-origin NHS consultant said: “These (private Indian) hospitals prefer recruiting Indian doctors from UK because of their experience of working in well-equipped hospitals in western countries. It seems that Indian well-to-do patients also prefer western qualified doctors”.