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Ruling on Indian docs a rebuff to Brown's populism

The ruling treating Indian docs in the UK on par with EU docs is seen as a setback to the PM's promise of "British jobs for British workers".

world Updated: Nov 10, 2007 12:01 IST

The high court's Friday ruling treating Indian and other international doctors on par with British and European Union doctors for purposes of employment is seen as the first legal rebuff to Prime Minister Gordon Brown's populist promise of "British jobs for British workers".

The ruling spread a wave of Diwali cheer among thousands of Indian doctors working in the National Health Service (NHS) whose future depended on the legal case. The ruling has also been widely welcomed by Britain's medical community.

During the September party conference season, Brown hit the headlines by promising 'British jobs for British workers', a promise that was promptly shown to be unrealistic by the opposition Conservative party on the ground that it went against European Union law. This week, Labour MP Keith Vaz also described Brown's slogan as "employment apartheid" and said it risked fuelling racism.

Amidst the cheer over the ruling, Indian doctors are also sounding a note of caution. The ruling removes a restriction to employment but they believe that doctors from India wishing to move to Britain should continue to think several times before doing so, for several reasons.

For one, the pool of employable people has grown exponentially due to higher numbers of overseas doctors clearing the mandatory pre-employment tests such as the Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board (PLAB) test.

Secondly, more numbers of British medical graduates are turning out every year due to higher investment in enlarging the student capacity in medical schools in the last 10 years. Many of them find it difficult to gain employment in the NHS.

Thirdly, doctors from the enlarged European Union are also part of the thousands who apply for the training and career posts in the NHS, making for a situation where hospital managers do not even open most of the thousands of applications that pour in for even junior posts.

A senior Indian doctor told IANS: "Only the best and brightest of Indian doctors have a good chance of finding employment in the NHS. The situation is no longer as easy as it was before 1985 or even in the 1990s.

"The legal ruling is welcome but that in no way should be construed by doctors in India as a signal that now they can easily find employment in the NHS. They should think several times before committing their savings to move here to find jobs".

During the recent round of recruitment under the Medical Training Application Service (MTAS), several Indian doctors gained employment, while many British doctors who were unsuccessful, left the country for jobs in Australia, Canada and the US. The inability of British doctors to find jobs in the NHS led to a public uproar.

The ruling that overseas doctors should be treated at par with British colleagues for employment is likely to make it more difficult for British graduates to gain training jobs. The Department of Health, which had drawn up proposals to restrict employment opportunities to overseas doctors, called the ruling as "disappointing".

A department spokesperson said: "It means we no longer have the option of issuing the guidance for 2008 on which we were consulting that prioritises UK medical school graduates for specialty training posts.

"We face the prospect of a large number of applicants competing for places. Doctors from outside Europe have made and continue to make a huge contribution to the NHS. The issue is not, and never has been, whether they can continue to work as NHS doctors - which they can - but whether the taxpayer should be investing in training them instead of UK medical graduates."

The British Medical Association (BMA), which consistently supported the stand of the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO) that challenged the restrictions on over seas doctors, hailed Friday's ruling.

Ram Moorthy, chairman of the BMA's Junior Doctors Committee, said: "The BMA believes this is the right decision. Doctors on the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme (HSMP) came to the UK in the honest expectation of careers in the NHS.

"The BMA has never wavered from the view that they should be able to compete for training posts alongside their UK colleagues. What's crucial now is that the government produces clear guidance for international medical graduates applying for jobs next year.

"The chaotic implementation of the new immigration rules left overseas doctors exposed to potential discrimination."

Raman Lakshman, vice-chair for Policy for BAPIO, said: "This is a victory for merit and fairness. Doctors on HSMP have committed to the United Kingdom and the court has rightly found that it was wrong to treat them differently."

First Published: Nov 10, 2007 09:06 IST