02 September 2009

Wales needs more doctors to immigrate to the UK

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The new points system for skilled immigrants has left a shortage of nearly 200 doctors at four NHS trusts, said a Plaid Cymru AM.

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Wales relies on doctors immigrating to the UK to fill shortages, and the new system is hampering that process.

In Cardiff, there are 65 vacancies for junior doctors while in Swansea two hospital wards have had to shut.

Plaid Cymru AM Leanne Wood told the BBC some NHS trusts had to rely on locum or agency doctors to fill the gaps, an expensive and only short-term solution.

Ms Wood said up to 43 per cent of the medical workforce in parts of Wales have an ethnic origin from outside the EU, highlighting the reliance on staff immigrating to the UK from countries such as India and Pakistan.

She said health trusts have told her they are facing difficulty recruiting doctors because of the new rules and has raised the issue with Health Minister Edwina Hart.

Ms Wood said: "I have had concerns about this since I discovered that hospital wards had to be closed in the Cwm Taf area over the Christmas period last year.  I fear that unless this situation is addressed, services will be deemed unsustainable."

A Welsh Assembly Government spokesperson said: "Changes in immigration rules have caused UK-wide problems with recruitment and we're working together with other home nations governments and trusts to address these issues.

"Work is under way to address the shortfall of doctors, assembly government officials have met with the UK Border Agency and additional guidance has been issued to NHS trusts to help improve recruitment."

Ms Woods concerns follow a statement in July by a senior surgeon who called for  UK immigration rules for overseas doctors to be revised to allow for increased recruitment of middle-grade medics.

Keshav Singhal, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon, said Wales was more affected by a UK-wide shortage of doctors than other areas.

A UK Border Agency spokesperson said the UK immigration points-based system does not prevent overseas doctors the health service needs from coming in.

"The points based system means only those we need can come here to work. It is also flexible so that we can raise or lower the bar according to the needs of the labour market and the country as a whole.

"Overseas doctors who meet the criteria will be welcomed."

 


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