This political stunt could block much-needed specialist workers from settling in Britain when they are vital for our economy and public services, says Kailash Chand in a blog for the Guardian.
One of Britain’s most famous institutions – the NHS – was built with the help of immigrant workers and professionals from across the world. Thousands of doctors immigrated from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka during the 1950s, 60s and 70s, recruited by a health service afflicted by an acute post-war shortage of medical staff.
Many settled in the UK permanently, often despite intending to return home, because the value of their contribution was recognised. The NHS was based on, and is now run on, diversity. We know that 30% of NHS professionals were born overseas. Without them, the NHS would come to a standstill.
I do not believe in uncontrolled immigration – but I believe the introduction of a cap on non-EU immigrants is an insult to every one of those doctors and nurses who came to work in Britain’s hospitals. Many of them have faced difficult circumstances, even racism, and an environment in which they are particularly vulnerable to misconduct charges, despite being the cause of no more complaints than their British counterparts.
I have several problems with the immigration cap, a policy that exists to solve a political – not practical – problem, which I believe at best won’t work and at worst could inflict serious harm on the country’s health service.
The immigration cap exists to allay the fears of people concerned about the influx of immigrants from eastern Europe. But the government has no power to limit EU immigration, which has been the key source of concern in recent years. Polish plumbers and Romanian cleaners will still be free to come to the UK – as they must be under EU law. If their arrival has depressed wages (and that is arguable) then this policy does nothing to fix that.
So it isn’t effective – but worse, it will have a negative impact. A blanket restriction could generate social, employment, and human rights inequalities, many of which are avoidable.
The government needs to rethink its plans to take into account the impact of an immigration cap on the NHS, international excellence in science, teaching and engineering. The main funding agency for medical science has had its visa quota for international scientists halved by the cap, which could seriously impact on cancer research in UK.
Moreover, there is no practical need for it. People’s fears about non-EU immigration are based on belief not reality. Ministers should tackle the concerns by putting the record straight. Because, despite headlines to the contrary, Britain is not a particularly high-migration country, with fewer foreign-born residents than France or Germany, and fewer than 10% foreign-born people in the workforce (including from the EU) — against 15% in the US. Net immigration is falling.
Many Asian and black health professionals have been the workhorses of the NHS, concentrated in the lowest paid, least glamorous specialities, in the least popular parts of the country. Some have faced racism and slow promotion in their working life.
I am one of the lucky ones. Having trained in India, I went on to have a successful and rewarding 25-year career as a GP in Stalybridge, Tameside, an active role in the British Medical Association and currently chair an NHS primary care trust. One of the proudest moments of my life was being awarded an OBE for services to the NHS.
However, many black and minority ethnic (BME) communities’ experiences of health services are quite different to mine, and to those of the white British population. A survey of every NHS trust and primary care trust in England proves that BME workers are grossly under-represented among senior management but are disproportionately involved in disciplinaries, grievances, bullying and harassment cases and capability reviews.
I believe the Department of Health has lagged behind other government department in its attempts to tackle racism and discrimination. I can understand the rationale for the NHS to close its doors to foreign doctors in an attempt to preserve health service jobs for British graduates. But I urge fairness for all health professionals.
I sincerely believe that a migration cap would be a political stunt that could have unintended consequences by blocking much-needed specialist workers from settling in Britain when they are vital for our economy and public services. The permanent immigration cap could lead to shortage of doctors and nurses for our healthcare.
Mainstream politicians need to work harder to build strong communities and education systems, and to rebuild trust and confidence in democratic politics so marginalised and vulnerable people do not feel so disconnected. Instead, they are exploiting people’s fears for votes.
Communities, from schools right through to local authorities, need to be encouraged to develop a more realistic understanding of immigration and asylum matters. Politicians of all colours need to shape a practical, common-sense approach that reflects our heritage and our values.
What is required is neither fortress Britain, nor open-door Britain. Instead, what we need is to ensure that there is fairness, equality and that there is diversity while celebrating the Brtitishness of our society. This will harness public support for a controlled but fair migration policy that benefits Britain.
Dr Kailash Chand OBE is a GP in Tameside, Greater Manchester. This Blog was first published on the Guardian website.
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