July 21, 2008

Indian docs in Britain allege racial discrimination

The National Health Service (NHS) in Britain celebrated its 60th birthday this month. But Indian doctors — the foot soldiers of the NHS since its inception — still feel discriminated against.

The British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO) says that immigration laws that effectively kicked 10,000 Indian doctors out of Britain in 2006 and “institutional racism” within the NHS must be reversed.

Indian doctors represent one fifth of all NHS doctors. There are currently over 30,000 Indian doctors and 23,000 nurses in the NHS, but the celebrations this month are bittersweet.

“Indians have been the backbone of the NHS for fifty years and the recent immigration laws are a slight to Indian doctors. It is a very sad situation,” said Dr Ramesh Mehta, president of BAPIO. “In the 1950s and 1960s, British doctors were not interested in working in inner-city practices or specific areas like psychiatry or care of the elderly. Indian doctors filled the vacuum. The NHS would have collapsed without them. The British public respects the work of Indian doctors but the UK government doesn’t.”

The NHS, however, remains thankful to the Indian doctors for their current role and historic contribution. The service would not have made it to 60 years without Indian medical staff, the NHS has said.

“The contribution that the Indian staff made to the NHS was, and remains enormous,” said NHS spokesperson Alison Langley. “The NHS, from its inception in 1948 up to the present day, has become a high quality service because of the commitment, skill and dedication of health professionals from India and other parts of the world. Today, doctors and nurses from India have firmly established themselves as core members of Britain’s health service.”

In 2000, the British government launched a recruitment drive of Indian doctors because of a shortage of doctors in the UK. However, in April 2006, the UK government suddenly announced it was abolishing permit-free training for overseas doctors because many British doctors were unemployed. Nearly 10,000 Indian doctors who had gone to Britain to take the Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board Test (PLAB) were forced to leave.

A successful court ruling in November 2007 that allowed Indian doctors be treated on a par with their EU counterparts, gave BAPIO some hope. But a quota system still exists in the NHS that gives first preference to EU doctors. Physicians from other parts of the world are considered for employment only if there are no suitable candidates from the EU countries.

The BAPIO alleges that racism exists in NHS. “There is institutional racism in the NHS. Indians are rarely promoted to posts like senior consultant or professors, as British doctors are preferred,” alleges Dr Mehta.

The NHS, however, says it is committed to racial equality.

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