The BBC reports that a leading cardiologist at the Erne hospital in Enniskillen has claimed that immigration regulations which “border on racism” have led to problems recruiting junior doctors.
A shortage of doctors led to the suspension of Gynaecological services last week at the hospital because only one of six new junior doctors was able to start work on time.
It is understood difficulties with work permits for doctors from the Asian subcontinent a major part of the problem.
Professor Mahen Varma attacked Home Office regulations which, he said, were responsible.
“We appointed two doctors, both of whom had been working in the UK, one in England and one in Craigavon,” Professor Varma explained.
“Both had the appropriate work permits and all the documentation was forwarded to the Home Office so that they could begin work in August.
“As they had already been employed in the UK, we did not anticipate a problem.
“Then we were informed that new work permits would not be issued for at least nine to 12 weeks. It is bureaucracy gone mad.”
In the past the majority of foreign junior doctors here were from the Asian sub-continent, but since the expansion of the EU, an increasing number now come from Eastern Europe.
Eastern Europeans from A8 nations can work here without work permits, whereas Asians need the documentation. Professor Varma thinks both should be treated equally.
“This is a matter of discrimination which actually borders on racism. Asian doctors are trained through the medium of English language, yet on arrival in the UK they require to pass specific tests on their competency in English.
“Contrast that with doctors who are trained in Poland, Latvia or Lithuania.
“The are trained in their own language yet their are not tested in their use of English prior to employment here. This is in no way a criticism of the competency of Eastern European doctors.”
He said the consequent impact for hospitals like the Erne is clear.
“We have lost a lot of good doctors who could not get permits and have gone to work in America where there is no bureaucracy like this.
“It’s a drain which has been very detrimental to the Northern Ireland Health Service.”
A spokesperson for the UK Border Agency which controls immigration, said:
“The points-based system is simplified, streamlined and more transparent than the previous system. It absolutely does not discriminate against any nationalities and is the same all over the world.
“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.
“If migrant workers’ skills are needed by the UK, they will be welcomed.”
Other have pointed out that there are other factor affecting recruitment at the Erne. Many newly qualified doctors prefer to work in the large Belfast hospitals than move to the west.
Omagh GP and SDLP councillor Doctor Josephine Deehan explained why.
“Many of them want to work in a bigger hospital simply to get as much experience as possible,” she said.
“A hospital which is busy offers them the maximum exposure to the conditions and procedures they will encounter.”
And there’s another pragmatic reason why city hospitals are more attractive.
“In city hospitals, there are more people rostering than country hospitals, so if you’re in a bigger hospital, you’re on call less often,” Dr Deehan continued.
It’s a problem without a simple solution. Dr Deehan’s interim choice would be to appoint staff doctors on a higher grade.
But she admits that that costs money – money which in straitened times, is scant.
Earlier this week Immigration Matters reported that health services across South Wales were under threat because of a critical shortage of doctors.
NHS trust officials spoke out 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.
The UK has introduced a new points-based immigration system, which replaced the Work Permit and HSMP Schemes last year, 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).
But no account is made for regional variations, and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are suffering shortages of medical and care staff.
Related article: Immigration rules blamed for starving hospitals of staff say NHS
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