Page last updated at 11:37 GMT, Wednesday, 30 April 2008 12:37 UK

Foreign doctor block 'unlawful'

Junior doctors rushing down corridor
There has been fierce competition for training posts

There is likely to be tough competition for junior doctor posts this year after a bid to give UK-trained medics priority in applying for jobs failed.

Ministers in England wanted overseas doctors to be appointed only if suitable UK medics were not available.

It would have meant that the thousands of overseas doctors who came to work in the NHS in recent years to plug gaps in the service would have been penalised.

But the restrictions were ruled unlawful by the House of Lords.

The problems last year, which saw junior doctors take to the streets over what they said was a chaotic applications system for training posts, was partly caused by the increased numbers of medics in the system.

When Labour came to power, they started to recruit doctors from abroad under initiatives such as the international medical graduates and highly-skilled migrant programmes to ensure there were enough doctors in the NHS.

Flood of applicants

At the same time, ministers oversaw an expansion in medical school places and once these new students started graduating it meant that there was a flood of applicants looking for junior doctors posts.

Two years ago, the then health secretary Patricia Hewitt released guidance advising the NHS to give priority to UK candidates. This also applied to EU candidates because of workforce laws.

The British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin challenged the rules, which were put on hold while the legal challenge was heard.

The Department of Health lost in the courts and appealed to the House of Lords, where it has now lost again.

Lord Rodger of Earlsferry ruled the rules were unfair because the government had been trying to dash the "legitimate expectations" of foreign doctors which it had fostered.

There are thought to be about 8,000 medics from overseas in junior doctor posts and that means there could be as many as three applicants for each post up for grabs this summer.

However, next year competition could become slightly less intense as Home Office rules banning applications from overseas doctors not already working in the NHS come into force.

This could reduce the 20,000 to 25,000 applications by as much as 5,000.

A Department of Health spokesman said: "We are disappointed that the Lords have ruled that our guidance as it stood was unlawful."

But Dr Terry John, chairman of the British Medical Association's international committee, said: "It's right that we have a debate about the numbers of doctors coming to the UK in future, but it's completely wrong to scapegoat those already here."

And Lib Dem health spokesman Norman Lamb added: "Rather than empty political gestures, the NHS needs good workforce planning.

"This would reassure British doctors and make use of the skills offered by overseas doctors."




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