January 06, 2008

Indian docs row in UK return to centre-stage

Senior British Indian doctors have accused the UK government of unfairly whipping up a fear psychosis of a sort once again by portraying Indian medics as poised to take away thousands of specialist medical training jobs from locals.

The new row comes as 9,000 highly-prized specialist jobs are advertised by Britain's department of health, with the gloomy caveat that at least half of them may go to non-European Union doctors, most of whom belong to India.

The issue of doctor training is seen as increasingly important because without a specialist training job, junior doctors cannot hope to become consultants or general practitioners.

The government warning comes less than two months after it ignominiously lost a legal challenge by Indian doctors in the High Court here, to force the health ministry to treat non-European medics on a par with European.

But Dr Ramesh Mehta, president of the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO), which was the lead appellant in the 16-month case, told TOI on Saturday that it was an absolute "nonsense that the Department of Health is spreading because the number of doctors coming here from the Indian sub-continent has dwindled in the last year".

Senior Indian doctors, however, allege the British government has embarked on a smear campaign against non-European medics in an attempt to prejudice public opinion because it is seeking to overturn their November 9 High Court victory in the highest court of the land.

The British government lodged an appeal to the House of Lords in mid-December in an attempt to stress the fairness of its attempt to give UK medical graduates priority in the recruitment process in 2008. The case will be heard in the Lords on February 28.

Mehta insisted that the Indian doctors expected to apply for the prized training posts were "those who are in the country already and rightfully have the expectation they would be treated on merit".

BAPIO claims that barely 300 Indian doctors entered Britain to work from April 2007, compared to nearly 9,000 in 2005.

But the British government has already issued a defensive statement to say "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 November 9 High Court ruling upheld BAPIO's appeal against the British health ministry unlawfully decreeing that it was right to discriminate against non-European Union doctors when it comes to jobs.

In a sign that at least some of the scaremongering – with Indian doctors as the villains of the piece – is having an effect, local doctors have already started to protest against unfair and unsustainable levels of competition for a limited number of National Health Service training jobs.

The lead NHS employers' body has warned there may be an average of three applicants per post, many of them non-European. It says there may be as many as 23,000 applications.

But with a rhetorical flourish, Mehta says, "Why are they so worried about competition? They should train the best doctors they have, be they Indian or British."

He added that Britain would actually benefit every time it chose an Indian doctor for further training because it had paid nothing to get a fully-qualified medic, while it costs the UK taxpayer £ 250,000 to educate a single doctor.

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