Importing health workers

nhs careers
Picture thanks to NHScareers.nhs.uk

The National Health Service is in crisis, at least that is what we are told every night on our televisions. The number of vacancies has rocketed, with nearly 50,000 nurses short alone and service levels at an all time low. The reasons behind this crisis are many and varied, with underfunding (either deliberate or by accident), increasing demand and a target driven culture contributing to the general mayhem. The NHS is a complex collection of organisations and it will always be easy to find some area that is not performing well. 

My blog is not to address these issues however, but rather one of the proposed solutions. To fill the vacancies the government has announced a fast track ‘NHS visa’ to make it easier for overseas doctors and nurses to work in the UK. Ministers believe that the scheme would enable the health service to continue to attract the finest medical staff after Britain has left the EU.

It may well do, it may not. At this stage, neither I nor the government can answer that. It strikes me though that it is unlikely to resolve the problem. People are not entering the medical profession for many reasons including the stressful nature of the role. I have heard uncorroborated stories that foreign medical workers feel unwelcome in the country.

My concern though, and the reason behind this blog, is the effect that the ‘NHS visa’ will have on other countries. It will cause medical workers to leave less well paid roles in their home countries for more lucrative contracts in the UK. I expect that these countries cannot afford to lose their doctors and what the ‘NHS visa’ does is to create a commercial global market in people’s health, or rather reinforces an existing one. 

Poorer countries will have poorer health care due to a reduction in the number of medical staff. This will lead to increased demands on their education system to train more people, money that they can ill afford.

My question is whether this is ethical. Should we expect, as one of the richest countries in the world to impose poorer health care upon less fortunate countries? I am all for the free movement of talent yet it seems, in this instance to be a one way street. This country needs to address its own health care requirements and stop adding to the divide between rich and poor countries.

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