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Indians' role in saving NHS finally recognised

BBC film, From Raj To Rhondda: How Indian Doctors Saved The NHS chronicles contribution of Indian doctors.

india Updated: Dec 25, 2003 21:34 IST

With nearly 30 per cent of doctors in the National Health service (NHS) from the subcontinent, the Indian doctors have been a boon to the health system here for decades. But their services have seldom been acknowledged.

Over 40 years down the road now, when these doctors are on the verge of retirement, Britain is again faced with a crisis. There is no one to replace them. Their children have either become specialists or opted for other careers.

An effort is being made, at last, to recognise the service Indian doctors have provided to take care of the health of a nation, in BBC's documentary: From Raj To Rhondda: How Indian Doctors Saved The NHS.

The NHS was created by the post-war Attlee's Labour government, but it was only in 1963 that Conservative Health Minister Enoch Powell called Indian doctors to save NHS from a staffing crisis.

The documentary shows that by the mid-sixties more than 18,000 doctors had arrived in Britain, but on coming here they were sent to either crime and unemployment ridden areas or rural communities, where English doctors refused to go.

They were offered the "Cinderella" posts in specialities such as mental health or geriatrics - or GP jobs in some of the country's most needy and deprived areas, including the South Wales Valleys. Speaking on the programme, Aneez Esmail of Manchester University, said, "Without them (doctors from South Asia) the NHS would have collapsed, and they provide a huge service to the NHS.

"But what really annoys me is that they have almost been written out of NHS history."
The programme says these ''strangely named doctors'' - Krishnamurthis, Bhattacharyas and Bodiwalas - astonished many in the coal-mining areas of Wales, because the only black faces they had seen were those of miners coming out of the coal pits. The tales of some of these doctors, reveal a sad reality. When Dr Bodiwala's father came to see him off at the airport he asked, ''when will I see you back? I said five years. And it is 33 years now,'' says Dr Bodiwala.

In the Rhondda valley of South Wales 73 per cent General Practitioners (GPs) are South Asians and in Cannon valley 70 per cent of the GPs are of South Asian origin, and many of them are on the road to retirement.

In this critical situation the Blair government needs to employ an extra 7,500 consultants and 2,000 GPs by the end of 2004. But even now, after the experience of the past four decades the first preference is for doctors from Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand. But these countries have showed little or no interest. And once again Britain needs the help of India.

The NHS today serves 1.4 million patients every week, delivers 10,000 babies , performs 3,000 heart operations, 1,200 hip replacements and 1,050 kidney operations. The service employs more than 100,000 people of which a quarter of them are from India.