British junior doctors to face non-EU rivals for training places in 2008

By Dipankar De Sarkar, IANS

London : Nearly two months after Indian doctors in Britain won a legal battle to be treated at par with Europeans in recruitment, a government department has warned British junior doctors to prepare for intense competition for jobs this year.

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The Department of Health has told the government’s National Health Service (NHS), which runs most of Britain’s hospitals, that there are expected to be 2.5 times more applicants than jobs.

“There are around 9,000 posts for around 23,000 estimated applicants, that’s what the Department of Health has told us,” said Sian Thomas of NHS Employers, the body responsible for employment in the health service.

In some specialities, such as surgery, there may be as many as 10 applications for each training post, she said.

But she added, “It is a good thing for patients that there is competition for jobs – it should mean they get the best doctors wherever they live.”

The new year’s warning comes after the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO) Nov. 9 won a court ruling that said NHS Employers could no longer give a preference to British or European doctors.

The court overturned a government directive that said NHS Employers could only hire a non-European doctor for training or a job if no suitable British or European candidates were available.

Indian doctors, who have been in Britain on highly-skilled work visas – for several years in many cases – protested that the directive was discriminatory.

Ram Moorthy, the chairman of the British Medical Association’s Junior Doctors Committee, said Saturday the excessive competition for places faced by junior doctors was due mainly to the large number of posts filled last year.

But he said it had also resulted from bad planning by the Department of Health, which had continued to recruit doctors from overseas at the same time as increasing the number of medical graduates from British universities.

“What you have got to realise is that these non-EU doctors have been here for a number of years and have given a commitment to the UK and the NHS, Mr Moorthy said.

“We have got to be equitable to these people who have made a commitment. We can’t move the goalposts halfway through to people who have made their lives in the UK.

“This is all down to poor workforce planning at government level over a number of years.

“We have known we have been increasing our numbers – it takes six years to train a junior doctor,” he told the BBC.

From Saturday, junior doctors will start to apply for the posts that allow them to train towards becoming a consultant or a family doctor.

Those who fail to win a place may seek a non-training job and reapply next year, look for work overseas or leave medicine.

With a large number of overseas doctors wanting the prestigious specialist training in the UK, this year is expected to see doctors from outside the EU make up half the applications for training posts, the BBC reported.

But British medical schools have also increased the number of doctors they are training, at an estimated cost to the taxpayer of £250,000 for every medical graduate.