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Immigration changes deprive UK of doctors

A stop on training opportunities for UK-trained doctors will exacerbate rota gaps, putting patient safety at greater risk 14 May 09. British Medical Association (BMA) apprehends the UK may further lose doctors due to recent changes to the immigration system; and has sought intervention of Secretary of State for Health Alan Johnson and Immigration Minister, Phil Woolas.

The introduction of tighter immigration requirements for doctors has led to a reduction in the numbers of overseas doctors coming to the UK.

The changes restrict international medical students, studying in the UK, from continuing with their medical training beyond the two-year postgraduate foundation programme.

The Home Office on March 31 changed the academic requirement for the “Tier 1 immigration category”. Doctors now applying to Tier 1 need minimum of a Master’s degree.

Expressing concern, BMA chairman Dr Hamish Meldrum has asserted: “The change to the Tier 1 requirements will seriously restrict international students, who have completed their undergraduate studies at UK medical schools, from continuing with their postgraduate medical education beyond the foundation programme.

“These individuals have been included in workforce planning statistics, and restricting their ability to progress with their postgraduate medical training contradicts the government’s previously stated aim of maximising training opportunities for UK-trained doctors.

“The full implementation of the European Working Time Directive and its impact on junior doctors’ training hours, coupled with a situation in which a proportion of prospective trainees can no longer continue with their training due to ever-tightening immigration rules, is likely to exacerbate rota gaps, putting patient safety at greater risk.

“Restricting their career options to such an extent represents a huge waste of taxpayers’ money and may lead to affected doctors leaving the UK permanently.”

The government has overhauled the immigration system with the introduction of a five-tiered immigration system. The system is points-based. The individuals must score a minimum number of points within a given Tier to be given leave to enter or remain in the UK. Tier 1 is the highly skilled worker category.

Doctor training in the UK typically involves five years of undergraduate study, followed by a two-year postgraduate foundation programme.

In March 2006, permit-free training for doctors ceased, although international graduates of the UK medical schools can stay and are able to continue with their training via the Postgraduate Doctor and Dentist Visa and the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme (HSMP) immigration routes.

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