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New visa rules could prompt exodus of hundreds of doctors, warns BMA

Union sets out concerns about proposals in letter to immigration minister

Caroline White

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Proposed changes to visa rules could prompt an annual exodus of hundreds of UK trained international doctors, threatening patient care and adding to the shortage of GPs, the BMA has warned.

The doctors’ union is so concerned about the impact the potential skills drain could have on the NHS that it has written to the immigration minister, James Brokenshire.

The proposals, which follow recommendations made by the Migrations Advisory Committee, include a new labour market test, designed to ensure that UK and European workers have first dibs on jobs, and the introduction of a levy for employers who preferentially employ skilled migrants.

The Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT) would apply to doctors moving from foundation year 2 to specialty training, and means they could only apply for specialty posts after UK and EEA doctors have applied – when most vacancies will have already been filled, says the BMA.

This could result in UK trained doctors failing to get specialty training posts in the UK and having to leave the country to work elsewhere, it suggests.

Currently, international students and foundation doctors who have studied at a UK medical school are on a Tier 4 visa. When they enter specialty training, they move on to a Tier 2 visa and can apply for specialty training posts at the same time as UK residents.

This change would not only have a devastating impact on the 500 overseas medical graduates of UK medical schools each year, but also on patient care, because of insufficient time to plan ahead for the number of doctors coming through training, says the BMA.

And restricting the supply of UK trained doctors progressing through the system could also severely disrupt the government’s goal of delivering more seven-day services and 5,000 extra GPs, it argues.

And it comes at a time when one in three GPs is already set to retire within the next five years, and hundreds of GP trainee posts remain vacant, it says.

Furthermore, setting the immigration skills charge at £1000 a year could force an NHS already under extreme financial pressure to stump up millions of pounds on the levy, it says.

If the charge were applied to the 3,602 doctors granted a Tier 2 visa from August 2014 to August 2015, the NHS would have to find more than £3.5 million, and Health Education England, the single sponsor for all doctors training in England, would be subject to charges of more than £800,000 per year alone, the BMA points out.

And an increase in the minimum salary threshold from £20,800 to £30,000 would prevent many doctors from being able to work less than full time due to caring or other responsibilities, it argues.

Dr Mark Porter, chair of BMA Council, said: “UK medical graduates from overseas, and international medical graduates are essential members of our medical workforce and the NHS is dependent on them to provide high-quality, reliable and safe services to patients. These changes ignore that key fact, and if they are implemented by the government they could have a series of unintended and harmful consequences for patient care and the wider NHS.”

He added: “The government must consider specific exemptions for the NHS in order to ensure we have the necessary workforce to provide patients with the care they deserve.”

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