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Last Updated: Monday, 28 June, 2004, 13:56 GMT 14:56 UK
NHS 'exploiting poor countries'
By Ray Dunne
BBC News Online health staff in Llandudno

Image of Jim Johnson
Mr Johnson said the NHS' overseas recruitment record was 'shameful'
The NHS has "a shameful record" when it comes to recruiting staff from overseas, the chairman of the British Medical Association has said.

James Johnson said the NHS had exploited countries like South Africa and the Philippines by taking medical staff they need.

Speaking at the BMA's annual meeting in Llandudno, Mr Johnson also criticised the government's public health record.

He said its record on smoking and sexual health was disgraceful.

Mr Johnson urged the government to ban smoking in public places.

He described record rises in the number of people being diagnosed with sexually transmitted infections as "an avoidable scandal".

Overseas staff

He also urged ministers to do more to ensure the NHS does not have to rely on staff from overseas.

"Throughout the history of the NHS, we have relied on other countries to fill NHS manpower gaps - both for nurses and doctors.

We should be producing enough doctors to look after our patients
James Johnson,
BMA Chairman
"As the fourth largest economy in the world we are still doing so - still taking doctors away from countries like South Africa and nurses from the Philippines, who need them more than we do.

"It's a shameful record of exploitation. Surely after over half a century of the NHS we should be producing enough doctors to look after our patients."

However, the Department of Health rejected the claims.

"We have an ethical code of practice, which is the first of its kind in the world," a spokeswoman told BBC News Online.

"NHS hospitals are not allowed to recruit from 158 developing countries because we know they can't afford to lose health staff.

"Countries like the Philippines have traditionally produced a surpluses of nurses and we have an agreement with the government there to recruit its nurses."

The Liberal Democrats called for new international rules on recruiting medical staff from developing countries.

"Overseas recruitment is the government's sticking plaster solution to the NHS staffing problem," said Paul Burstow, its health spokesman.

"It is morally indefensible to aggressively recruit nurses from developing countries with their own health crises."

NHS reforms

Meanwhile, doctors at the conference attacked many of the government's key NHS reforms.

They criticised the creation of foundation trusts and fast-track treatment centres.

"Foundation trusts are businesses whose remit is to make a profit," said Anna Athow, a surgeon at North Middlesex University Hospital in London. "It is effectively privatisation."

They also slammed plans to give hospital patients more choice over where they are treated, saying they excluded the vast majority of patients and would only benefit the middle class.

"It's a political charade," said Dr Chand Nagpaul, a GP in London.

"The patient choice initiative has very little to do with what patients want," said Dr Jackie Davis, a consultant radiologist at London's Whittington Hospital.

"Choice implies spare capacity and we are still woefully short of the doctors, nurses and health professionals we need to run a proper, 21st century service," said Mr Johnson, the BMA chairman.

More than 500 doctors are attending the BMA's annual conference, which runs until Thursday.

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