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UK commits to review its recruitment of health workers from low income countries


Health Poverty Action’s call for health worker compensation was picked up during a parliamentary debate last week, with the Minister, Desmond Swayne, committing to commission a review of the NHS use of foreign workers.

Health Poverty Action has been campaigning for the UK and other wealthy countries to compensate low income countries that are providing a subsidy to the NHS through their health workers.

For years the UK actively recruited health workers from low and middle income countries to fill gaps in the NHS. Whilst this has declined in recent years, we are still receiving subsidies from some of the world’s poorest countries; 26% of doctors currently working in the UK were trained outside of Europe.

In 2010, Sierra Leone had only 136 doctors and just over 1,000 nurses. This is a country with one of the weakest health systems, struggling to battle the Ebola crisis. Yet 27 doctors and 103 nurses that trained in Sierra Leone are currently in the UK.[i] We do not know at what level they are working or whether they are in the NHS or the private sector. If the 27 doctors are junior doctors, this would mean that Sierra Leone’s doctors and nurses are providing a saving to the UK of £14.5 million. However, if those doctors are consultants, training costs would double, meaning that the total subsidy Sierra Leone is providing to UK health services (NHS and private) could be up to £22.4 million.

Our figures were picked up by MPs in the debate last week in parliament, resulting in the Minister committing to commission a review of the NHS use of foreign workers.

We are delighted that the UK will undertake a review into its recruitment practises. We call on the Minister to ensure that this will consider the health systems of low income countries, rather than be used as an opportunity to restrict migration.

International health workers have made an enormous contribution to the NHS. Instead of focusing on restricting migration, the review should look out how we can establish a compensation mechanism for countries that have suffered as a result of international recruitment. It should clarify the actors to be compensated; the nature of the loss; the methods of calculating how much is due; and the channels for administrating compensation funds.

It is unacceptable that a country with one of the weakest health systems in the world is subsidising the country with the strongest. If we are going to recruit health workers trained overseas then it is only fair that the UK pays its share of those costs.


[i] GMC, personal correspondence

Health Poverty Action is part of the ‘Health workers for all and all for health workers’ (HW4All), coalition, a European civil society initiative funded by the European Union that contributes to a sustainable health workforce world-wide. You can sign up to the campaign and support the Call to Action here

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