| Doctors during a protest in London
London, Feb. 25: Following the suicide of three Asian doctors and the possibility of others following their examples, Britain’s department of health has agreed to a concession which allows between 10,000 and 15,000 Indian doctors to apply for jobs on an equal footing with candidates from within the UK and the European Union.
Earlier, the department had said that Indian and other overseas doctors would be eligible for a post only if it could not filled internally from within the UK or the EU.
It is believed that there has been no discrimination in the shortlist being published tomorrow for the 21,000 vacancies that need to be filled in the National Health Services (NHS).
Such large-scale recruitment for jobs starting in August takes place only once a year — and the bulk of Indian doctors, although uncertain about their fate, have applied in time for the vacancies.
Selection will be on merit and the Indians are confident that they are well qualified.
The rules governing the employment of overseas doctors, most of whom are from India, are exceedingly complicated but for the first time since the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (Bapio) began its campaign for fairer treatment, some sort of a concession has been secured from the department of health.
Bapio took the department to court and lost but has raised £70,000 for an appeal.
The department has not disclosed what its long-terms plans are but last Friday it announced that it would allow overseas Indian doctors to apply on the same footing as candidates from the UK and the EU.
However, if Bapio loses its appeal, the department may go back to insisting that overseas doctors will only have jobs that cannot be filled from within the UK and the EU.
Bapio, which considers it has won a “victory in round one” only, recognises that the main battle on behalf of thousands of Indian doctors is yet to reach completion.
A Bapio statement today said that it was “very pleased to note that the department of health had decided to keep the new immigration regulations in abeyance for the first round of national recruitment for the training posts in the NHS. The result will be that all the doctors applying will be treated equally and the shortlisting will be based on merit rather than nationality”.
Bapio’s president, Dr Ramesh Mehta, commented: “We are happy that the department of health has responded sensibly. We expect that all doctors will be treated equally and on merit rather than on nationality. This is in the best interests of the British people who deserve the best doctors. We will continue to work to eradicate discrimination in any form.”
“This is a victory for merit and fairness,” said Dr Satheesh Mathew, vice-chairman of Bapio (operations). “This will reinforce the faith of international medical graduates that in Britain truth and justice do prevail, provided they stand up for their legitimate rights.”
Dr Raman Lakshman, who is Bapio’s vice-chairman (policy), added: “This is great news. This would not have happened if the international medical graduate community had quietly accepted the new rules when they were announced in March 2006. This U-turn by the department of health is due to the sustained campaign of Bapio supported by thousands of international medical graduates.”
Apart from Imran Yousaf, a young Pakistani from Lahore who hanged himself after being told he could not apply for a job, two others have committed suicide, according to Dr Rajendra Chaudhary, who is familiar with the unfolding tragedy of overseas doctors.
“The families of the two others are not keen to have their suicides publicised at the moment,” said Chaudhary.
Lakshman said: “These are terrible tragedies but we don’t want to use these suicides to advance our case. We have strong arguments in our favour.”
More than 10,000 Indian doctors who came to the UK under the “permit free training scheme” mostly have been forced to return, said Chaudhary.
But that still leaves an additional 15,000 more qualified Indian doctors who came to the UK under the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme. However, their position was rendered precarious by a home office ruling in March last year imposed without warning.
It said that if they applied for jobs, their employers would have to pass the “restricted labour market test”, under which the latter would need to prove that suitable UK and EU doctors could not be found for a post.
It is this rule which has been relaxed for the time being.
“The suicides have certainly had something to do with the change,” Chaudhary said.