Wales Online reports that health services across South Wales are under threat because of a critical shortage of doctors.
NHS trust officials have spoken this week for the first time about the impact that changes to the UK immigration rules have had on their ability to recruit medical staff.
It is estimated that as many as 100 medical posts are empty across South Wales because trusts cannot fill vacancies with doctors from countries outside the European Union, particularly India and South East Asia.
In some Welsh trusts four out of 10 doctors are from overseas, and the NHS depends on non-EU doctors to provide day-to-day and specialised health services.
Leanne Wood, Plaid Cymru AM for South Wales Central, who uncovered the extent of the problem, said:
“It is extremely concerning to see such high levels of vacancies of doctor grades within the Welsh NHS.
“I fear that unless this situation is addressed, services will be deemed unsustainable.
“I find it more than ironic that reactionary calls to curb immigration have led to a situation where we could end up losing valuable NHS services.”
The UK introduced a new points-based immigration system, which replaced the Work Permit and HSMP Schemes, whilst at the same time it tightened up entry requirements.
Points are now awarded on the basis of age, qualifications, previous earnings, experience and, crucially, on whether or not the job is on the National Shortage Occupations list – as recommended by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC).
No account is made for regional variations, and both Wales and Scotland are suffering shortages of medical and care staff.
Margaret Foster, chief executive of Cwm Taf NHS Trust, said in a letter to Ms Wood:
“We are now required to follow strict rules as to the appointment of doctors from abroad – outside the EU area – and the result has been a general drying up of applicants from outside the EU, in the main because many of them believe they will not be able to get a job.”
And Judith Hardisty, Cardiff and Vale NHS Trust’s human resources director, said:
“The rule change has meant that even if we identify a suitably-qualified and experienced doctor from a non-EU country, it is extremely difficult to obtain a work permit for them.”
Cardiff and Vale NHS Trust has 65 medical vacancies and Cwm Taf NHS Trust a further 20.
Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University NHS Trust, which runs the Princess of Wales Hospital, has 35 vacancies across Bridgend, Swansea and Neath Port Talbot.
The impact of medical staff shortages is being felt in Wales, with the Cardiff based University Hospital of Wales taking on all emergency and complex adult brain surgery in Wales because of a lack of doctors at Morriston Hospital, in Swansea.
A spokesman for the UK Border Agency defended the new system:
“Our strengthening of the points-based system does not prevent overseas doctors from working in the UK if they have the skills the NHS needs.
“Foreign doctors can come here to work through tier one, for highly-skilled migrants, or tier two for skilled migrants.
“We are using the flexibility of the new system to ensure migration benefits the country and only the people we need can come here to work. Raising the bar for highly-skilled migrants is just one example of this.
“If migrant workers’ skills are needed by the UK, they will be welcomed.”
Source: Wales Online
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