The time for a joined-up approach to recruiting international doctors is now

The red tape surrounding the recruitment of international doctors is confusing and conflicting, experts say

According to the BMJ, the UK urgently needs a joined-up and strategic approach to the recruitment of international health professionals.

James Buchan and Anita Charlesworth from The Health Foundation say that while the UK government’s decision to review the visa regime for international doctors is “a rare glimmer of common sense in an issue that has been more usually characterised by national policy incoherence,” it remains concerning that there are underlying problems regarding the UK’s approach to the recruitment of international health professionals, and these “remain to be acknowledged and addressed.”

These problems, they say, “owe much to a debilitating mix of conflicting policy goals and inadequate national health workforce planning and funding. This has led to a long-term ‘stop-go’ approach to international recruitment of doctors and other health professionals, which has often been misaligned with domestic health workforce and immigration policies.”

Buchan and Charlesworth stated that, a decade ago, the Parliament Health Committee’s report on NHS workforce planning concluded that there had been a “disastrous failure” due in part to a “clear lack of alignment” between domestic training and international recruitment.

The report recommended that the Department of Health needed “to work more effectively with other departments – notably the Home Office – to ensure that international recruitment is fair and consistent.”

Buchan and Charlesworth say little has changed but, now, there are even tighter budgets and more pronounced staff shortages to deal with.

“While there have been glib statements about the UK achieving ‘self sufficiency’ in doctors and nurses, if this means ending reliance on international recruits then it is unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future, given current high vacancy rates, the ageing of the NHS domestic workforce, and retention indicators showing no substantial improvement,” they argue.

The UK continues to be heavily reliant on international doctors, but a confusing stance on immigration combined with an even more muddled Brexit situation leave the UK vulnerable. Buchan and Charlesworth write that there is simply no overall government policy, published plan or immediate likelihood of UK self-sufficiency in doctors and nurses.

“What we need is a joined up and strategic approach to international recruitment of health professionals, involving government health departments, the Home Office, regulators and employers, which is embedded in overall national health workforce planning.”

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