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Tuesday, 25 June, 2002, 13:08 GMT 14:08 UK
Foreign doctors to bolster NHS
Surgery
European firms may soon provide services
Health Secretary Alan Milburn has published plans detailing how the government intends to boost the NHS by drawing on overseas talent.

Initially, the aim is to use manpower from continental Europe to staff new top quality private sector facilities that will treat NHS patients, and thus reduce waiting times.


Waiting times are falling, but to get them down further still we will bring in new capacity from overseas

Alan Milburn
Ministers are especially interested in recruiting foreign clinical teams to help reduce long waits in orthopaedics and ophthalmology.

Ultimately, foreign providers will also be given the go-ahead to build their own facilities in the UK.

The proposals were published in a government prospectus on Tuesday, on the same day that Mr Milburn held discussions with private healthcare companies from abroad about how they could help the NHS.

The prospectus makes it clear that overseas providers are expected to become a permanent feature of the NHS.

The first teams are likely to be in place later this year.

Mr Milburn said: "The NHS is now growing and growing fast.

"But capacity shortages show it is still feeling the effects of decades of neglect.

"Waiting times are falling, but to get them down further still we will bring in new capacity from overseas."

Mr Milburn stressed that NHS services would continue to be free and based on need.

Furious response


The government has a cheek in presenting the result of its own short-term solutions for the NHS as a brave new initiative

Dr Evan Harris
Karen Jennings, national secretary of the health workers' union Unison, said the proposals would undermine the NHS as a public sector provider in the long term.

"Recruiting health teams from other EU member states is unethical," she said.

Shadow Health Secretary Dr Liam Fox, for the Tories, roundly criticised the plans.

He said: "It is a sign of the of the government's increasing desperation that, having failed to recruit and retain staff in the UK, they are desperately looking overseas to fill the ever increasing gaps in their NHS Plan."

Dr Evan Harris MP, Liberal Democrat health spokesman, said: "The government has a cheek in presenting the result of its own short-term solutions for the NHS as a brave new initiative. Making a virtue out of necessity has become an art for the Health Secretary.

"Labour continues to thrash around to find solutions for under capacity which it has caused over five years of inaction and underinvestment."

Dr Ian Bogle, BMA Chairman said all doctors wanted to see their patients treated as quickly as possible.

"The BMA would not want to stand in the way of pragmatic solutions to speed up waiting times.

"However, today's announcement does take us into new territory because these new providers are set to become a permanent part of the NHS landscape.

"I would want to be reassured that this initiative does not detract from the long term sustained effort to build capacity in the NHS and to ensure that the NHS is getting the best possible value for money for patients and the taxpayer."

Dr Beverly Malone, General Secretary, Royal College of Nursing said the government's announcement could have serious long term implications.

She said: "Reliance on overseas providers may mean we do not invest in and develop the NHS and there is a risk the government could become complacent about recruiting and growing our own healthcare staff.

"Furthermore, in the long-term, the private sector could be in the driving seat for determining the costs of care and treatment."

See also:

18 Apr 02 | Health
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