Doctors from outside EU barred from consultant training
John Carvel, social affairs editor
Thursday February 7 2008
A ban on doctors from outside the EU training to become consultants in the NHS was imposed by the government yesterday in an attempt to protect the career prospects of British graduates.
The immigration minister, Liam Byrne, said an Australian-style points system would be used to stop doctors from outside Europe entering Britain to access postgraduate medical training. The rule is expected to keep out up to 5,000 applicants, mainly from India and other Commonwealth countries, from 2009.
The health secretary, Alan Johnson, said immediate action was needed to stop overseas doctors who are already working for the NHS from winning coveted places to train as consultants. His plan, which is fraught with legal difficulty, would stop about 10,000 non-European NHS doctors from applying in June for the next round of interviews for trainee posts.
Their only chance of getting a foot on the ladder to become NHS consultants would come if the medical deaneries could not fill posts in unpopular specialities from the pool of European graduates. Non-Europeans already working in Britain would be allowed to compete for these few remaining places. The restrictions are designed to avoid a repetition of the chaos last year when nearly 28,000 applicants competed for about 15,500 training places in England. About 45% had graduated outside Europe and many unsuccessful candidates were hoping for another chance in this year's competition.
The outcome of Johnson's decision to disqualify them hangs on a forthcoming decision by the law lords. Last year the government consulted on the principle of excluding foreign doctors from training as NHS consultants.
A legal challenge by the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin was upheld on appeal on the grounds that health ministers did not have authority to change immigration law.
The case will go to the House of Lords on February 20, with judgment expected in May. If the government loses, its plan to ban the non-Europeans from this year's competition will collapse.
Johnson said: “It can cost up to 250,000 to train a UK medical student. With the increase in UK medical schools, we are moving to a policy of self-sufficiency. If UK medical graduates cannot access specialist training because of a large number of applicants from outside Europe, then it is only right we should consider what needs to be done.”
Dr Hamish Meldrum, chairman of the BMA, said: “Our concern is that the overseas colleagues already working in the UK are being both scapegoated and sent confusing messages.
“At a time when they need clarity, it's being made very unclear to them what jobs they can apply to and when.”