Britain has long depended on doctors from India to run the National Health Service (NHS) since it was founded in 1948, but the reliance is likely to increase after the UK leaves the European Union and EU-trained doctors will no longer have the right to work here.
India is the largest source country of doctors in the NHS after Britain — there are currently 25,281 doctors who gained their medical qualifications in India. Considered the backbone of NHS, they are often hailed for their contribution to Britain.
However, the nature of migration of Indian doctors has changed over the years. From thousands coming to Britain to work and settle, the recent trend sees more doctors come to train and return back to India, as the growing health sector back home provides more lucrative opportunities.
Ramesh Mehta, president of the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (Bapio), said on Wednesday that the experience of Indian doctors in the NHS had not always been positive, but revealed that new systems had been put in place to improve the situation.
Mehta told Hindustan Times: “Britain’s historical dependence on India for doctors and health professionals will increase after Brexit. Many patients died when EU-trained doctors with poor English and other skills worked in the NHS, but they could not be barred as the UK is a member of the EU.
“But after Brexit, they will not have the automatic right to work, which will turn the NHS more towards India – again – to meet the thousands of vacancies, given the acknowledged better clinical and language skills of India doctors.”
Figures show that Indian doctors are the most complained against among non-EU trained doctors. A new report by experts at the University College London this week revealed that they are five times more likely to face inquiries than their UK-trained counterparts.
However, Mehta said the data used in the UCL study was until 2013; the higher number of complaints could be due to unconscious bias or institutional racism, but a new standard put in place in all hospitals was considerably changing the situation.
Since 2014, all NHS organisations are mandated to follow the Workforce Race Equality Standard that seeks to ensure employees from black and minority ethnic communities have equal access to career opportunities and receive fair treatment in the workplace.
“After it was put in place, all NHS organisations have been contacting Bapio to help in culture change. This is a good sign; there is slow but steady progress. The establishment is listening to us. Bapio has been working to this end for the last 20 years,” Mehta said.
According to latest figures of the General Medical Council, only 695 new Indian doctors registered in 2016, following the dwindling numbers per year since the high of 3640 in 2004. Many settled Indian doctors in the NHS have also taken up jobs in India in recent years.
Mehta said that under a new programme which starts later this year, groups of Indian doctors will come to Britain on a rotation basis for two or three years (not leading to settlement), and return after gaining valuable training experience.
“We are partnering with the Maharashtra University of Health Sciences and other such Indian universities to send new graduates. It is a win-win situation for both countries: the UK gets doctors to fill vacancies and India benefits from valuable training here,” he said.0