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UK again looks at India to meet shortage of doctors

world Updated: Feb 29, 2016 23:19 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times
UK National Health Services

Indian doctors have historically trained and worked in Britain, and their work has been much valued but recent years have seen a drop in their numbers moving here and registering with the regulator of the General Medical Council (GMC), mainly due to visa restrictions.(iStock Image)

Britain is again looking at India to help fill thousands of vacancies of doctors and nurses in the National Health Service (NHS), but is likely to find less enthusiasm in the recruitment drive due to growing opportunities in India’s private health sector.

The British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (Bapio) cautioned Indian doctors not to be lured by false hopes extended by locum agencies, and offered them advice on job offers and related aspects about taking up employment in the NHS.

“We don’t want them (Indian doctors) to be treated as second class citizens, or be exploited by locum agencies. India also needs doctors; we don’t want to encourage brain drain,” Ramesh Mehta, Bapio president, told Hindustan Times.

Indian doctors have historically trained and worked in Britain, and their work has been much valued but recent years have seen a drop in their numbers moving here and registering with the regulator of the General Medical Council (GMC), mainly due to visa restrictions.

New figures revealed by BBC on Monday, based on a Freedom of Information request, indicate two-thirds of NHS trusts and health boards are actively trying to recruit doctors and nurses in countries such as India and the Philippines to fill “tens of thousands” of posts. Critics allege poor workforce planning for the situation.

However, several Indian doctors told Hindustan Times that NHS recruitment consultants looking at India may not find much enthusiasm now, given the India’s growing private health sector, Britain’s immigration restrictions and perceptions of unfair treatment at work in the 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 latest GMC figures indicate, there has been a sharp drop in the number of Indian doctors – from 3,640 in 2004 to 534 in 2015. Bapio has been helping NHS trusts recruit doctors in India.

Bapio president Mehta 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. 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.”

Madhur Rao, who moved to Pune after a long medical career in Britain, said several of his colleagues had returned or were considering doing so, mainly due to better career prospects, salaries that are better or equal to those in the NHS, and the prospect of returning to look after parents.

Rao said: “It is a win-win situation; salaries in India are exceedingly good now. The quality of life is better in India. There are also Indian doctors who don’t want their children to grow up in Britain, and return after some training experience in Britain.”

“Corporate hospitals in India now offer treatment for complex procedures for which people in the past travelled abroad, as the hospitals are willing to invest in the latest technology from across the world,” Rao added.

An Indian-origin NHS consultant said: “Indian private hospitals prefer recruiting Indian doctors from UK because of their experience of working in well-equipped hospitals in western countries. Indian well-to-do patients seem to prefer western qualified doctors.”