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Last Updated: Friday, 27 May, 2005, 14:03 GMT 15:03 UK
UK 'crippling Africa healthcare'
Image of an overseas doctor
Many doctors overseas apply to work in the UK each year
The UK is crippling sub-Saharan Africa's healthcare system by poaching its staff, UK doctors have warned.

With the UK taking over the chair of the G8 in July, there is an ideal opportunity to stop the brain drain from poor to rich countries, they said.

The UK should encourage more home-grown doctors and limit the time period that overseas recruits can train and work in the country, they told the Lancet.

Financially compensating nations for lost staff will not work, they warned.

Brain drain

Nor will strategies that split the training of healthcare staff between developed and developing countries, according to Dr John Eastwood and his colleagues from St George's Medical School in London.

Industrialised countries like America and Britain must recognise that they have some responsibility for this crisis
Dr Edwin Borman of the British Medical Association

He said: "One basic measure would be an agreement in consultation, with the World Health Organization, to establish a basis in developed countries for minimum annual numbers of health professionals in training.

"This would help to reduce developed country reliance on the investment in training made by developing countries."

Ethics

The UK does have an ethical code which means it will not actively recruit from certain developing countries, which includes sub-Saharan Africa.

However, healthcare professionals from these countries are free to apply for jobs in the UK.

In 2003, 5,880 UK work permits were approved for health and medical personnel from South Africa, 2,825 from Zimbabwe, 1,510 from Nigeria and 850 from Ghana.

Push and pull factors
PUSH AWAY FROM AFRICA
Lack of postgraduate training opportunities
Poorly funded work facilities
Lack of work posts
Low pay
Civil unrest
PULL TOWARDS UK
Training and career opportunities
Attraction of centres of medical excellence
Better pay and working conditions
Availability of posts

Although the UK government says it is working to create more home-grown doctors to staff the NHS and bring down waiting times after decades of under-resourcing, it still relies heavily on healthcare professionals from overseas.

Nearly a third of the doctors practising in the UK were trained overseas.

In comparison, only 5% of doctors in Germany and France are not home grown.

Dr Edwin Borman, chairman of the BMA's International Committee, said: "Shortages of doctors and nurses are having a devastating effect in the developing world.

"Sub-Saharan Africa alone needs around a million more healthcare workers, and unless the situation improves drastically rates of HIV will spiral, disability from childhood disease will rise, and thousands more lives will be lost.

"Industrialised countries like America and Britain must recognise that they have some responsibility for this crisis.

"At least the UK now has an ethical recruitment code, and we hope other countries will follow suit - but we also need to remove the financial barriers we have imposed on developing countries which are preventing them from investing in basic healthcare and training."

These calls were echoed by the World Medical Association.

Progress

Number of physicians per 100,000 patients in 2004
France - 329
UK - 166
South Africa - 69
Nigeria - 27
Ghana - 9
Zimbabwe - 5.7
Source: World Health Organization

Health Minister Lord Warner acknowledged that Britain had in the past relied too much on overseas doctors but said the government was now expanding the numbers of medical school places so it could train more.

"We are probably the most advanced developed country in this area," he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

"We have got a code of ethical recruitment for the NHS to try to stop recruiting people from countries that have scarce specialties and can't afford to lose staff and includes very much sub-Saharan Africa.

"Through our International Development Department we are putting investment into these countries themselves to help them train and to pay more to their doctors and nurses to keep them there."

The Conservatives said they would use Aid budgets to support health systems in developing countries to help solve the problem.

The Liberal Democrats said the G8 countries should be working towards an international agreement to limit the number of nurses and doctors being recruited from vulnerable countries.




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
The extent of the 'brain drain' from Africa to the UK



SEE ALSO:
Plugging the 'brain drain'
11 Mar 05 |  Africa


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