Point-based immigration system leaves health care sector ailing in the UK

As many as 200 doctors’ jobs lying vacant at four NHS trusts

Tags: BMA, Plaid Cymru AM Leanne Wood, Welsh Assembly, Cardiff, Swansea

2nd September 2009: Less than a fortnight after reports came that the government’s new points-based immigration system on the Australian pattern was resulting in slowdown of the visa approvals process for some businesses, it is now believed even the health care sector has been left ailing.
Available information indicates as many as 200 doctors’ jobs are lying vacant at four NHS trusts, due to the new points system for immigrants.
As a result, some health trusts are being compelled to place reliance on locum or agency doctors for filling in the gaps.
The figures only confirm apprehensions being felt since long. The British Medical Association (BMA), just over three months ago, had apprehended the UK may further lose doctors due to recent changes to the immigration system; and had sought intervention of Secretary of State for Health Alan Johnson.
BMA chairman Dr Hamish Meldrum had even shot of communiqués to Johnson, and Immigration Minister Phil Woolas.
As per the information, 65 vacancies of junior doctors exists in Cardiff, while two hospital wards had to shut in Swansea.
Plaid Cymru AM Leanne Wood says the reliance on staff from countries like India and Pakistan can be gauged from the fact 43 per cent of the medical workforce in parts of Wales have an ethnic origin from outside the EU.
Ms Wood says she has already raised the issue with Health Minister Edwina Hart, adding unless this situation is addressed, services will be deemed unsustainable.
Reacting to the development, a Welsh Assembly Government spokesperson said changes in immigration rules have caused UK-wide problems with recruitment and they were working together with other home nations governments and trusts to address these issues.
Work was under way to address the shortfall of doctors; assembly government officials recently met the UK Border Agency and additional guidance has been issued to NHS trusts to help improve recruitment.
A UK Border Agency spokesperson said the UK immigration points-based system does not prevent overseas doctors from coming in. The points based system meant only those required could come here to work. It was also flexible so the bar could be raised or lowered according to the needs of the labour market and the country as a whole. Overseas doctors who met the criteria would be welcomed.
The government only recently overhauled the immigration system within the UK 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 remained and were 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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