The UK urgently needs a joined-up and strategic approach to the recruitment of international health professionals, argue experts in the BMJ.
James Buchan and Anita Charlesworth from the Health Foundation say the UK government's decision to review the visa regime for international doctors is "a rare glimmer of common sense in an issue that has been more usually characterised by national policy incoherence”.
What remains of concern, however, "is that the underlying problems of the UK approach to international recruitment of health professionals remain to be acknowledged and addressed".
The authors say these problems are the result of "a debilitating mix of conflicting policy goals and inadequate national health workforce planning and funding which has led to a long-term stop-go approach to international recruitment of doctors and other health professionals, often been misaligned with domestic health workforce and immigration policies.
They point out that 10 years ago, the UK Parliament Health Committee report on NHS workforce planning concluded that there had been a "disastrous failure" of planning, in part because of a "clear lack of alignment" between domestic training and active international recruitment. It said the Department of Health needed to work more effectively with other departments, notably the Home Office, to ensure that international recruitment is fair and consistent."
Yet little appears to have changed. The simple truth is there is no overall government policy, published plan, or immediate likelihood of UK self-sufficiency in doctors or nurses, they write.
"What we need is a joined up and strategic approach to international recruitment of health professionals, involving government health departments, the Home Office, regulators and employers, which is embedded in overall national health workforce planning," they conclude.