‘Government Did Not Consult On Visa Restrictions For Overseas Doctors’

The High Court ruled today that the government did not consult with the medical profession, or follow necessary race relations procedures, before restricting employment opportunities for doctors from outside the European Economic Area (EEA).

The ruling comes in response to a legal challenge against last year’s government decision to prevent non-EEA doctors from taking up UK training posts if there are eligible candidates from the EEA. It states that although the government did not have a legal duty to consult, it offered no opportunity for organisations representing affected doctors to communicate their views about the changes, and failed to comply with its duty to examine the race relations issues involved.

Commenting on the judgment, Dr Edwin Borman, chair of the BMA International Committee, says: “The government’s recent treatment of overseas doctors has been very disappointing. They were given the impression that they’d be able to contribute to the NHS, and spend their whole careers in the UK, then the rules changed overnight and many were forced to leave. The failure of the government to consult with the medical profession meant that they had little opportunity to prepare to leave the country.”

Dr Andrew Rowland, vice-chairman of the BMA Junior Doctors Committee, adds: “We’re in the middle of the recruitment process for new junior doctor posts and it is crucial that the Department of Health issues full and transparent guidance immediately. The deadline for shortlisting job applications is two weeks away, so those involved in selection need to be absolutely clear about what this decision means. If they’re not, the whole recruitment process will fall apart.”

“The government must learn lessons from this episode. It needs to undertake rigorous long-term workforce planning so we can be honest with overseas doctors about opportunities in the UK. If that had happened in the past we wouldn’t be in this situation now.”

The High Court also ruled on new government guidance on a different group of overseas doctors – those employed on the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme. It stated that the Department of Health’s decision to restrict their employment opportunities did not constitute unlawful discrimination.

Dr Edwin Borman adds: “We are disappointed that the High Court has not ruled in favour of doctors on the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme. It has always been our opinion that they should be treated the same way as their UK counterparts when applying for posts.”