Time to try a new approach

Time to try a new approach

Everyone now accepts that the UK is not training enough doctors, nurses and other health specialist to cover its needs, and that exit from the EU is likely to make everything worse. The NHS and private healthcare providers trawl the world, including developing countries to recruit people. We also export hundreds of trained doctors and nurses each year: some returning home, others wanting a less stressed and more lucrative job abroad, and others indulging a little wanderlust via globally welcome qualifications.

On the other side of the equation we have many people in the UK wanting to train in medical professions but each year straight A’s students are turned down from the very limited places available.

Why has one of the richest countries in the world decided that it is too expensive to train more doctors and nurses and instead spends time hunting through the world for more staff?

If we look globally there is little excuse for this. The World Health Organisation estimates that there are only 1.13 doctors for every 1,000 people in the world today with over 44% of WHO Member States reporting less than 1 physician per 1000 population. Comparing figures is not always accurate as countries have different definitions and don’t report at the same time but relatively recent figures from the World Bank give numbers of physicians per 1000 population ranging from Cuba with 7.5 and Monaco on 6.6 down to 0.8 in India and as low as 0.1 in a number of countries including Mozambique, Senegal and Zimbabwe.

Against these figures the UK has a modest 2.8, lower than the European and Central Asian average of 3.4 and the Euro zone average of 3.9. This rate is feared to worsen once the UK leaves the European Union.

So what are the solutions?

The government has said it will increase the number of university places by 25% over coming years and this can only help. However, this could be increased and complimented by looking to a country like Cuba that already trains many people as doctors and exports its own doctors around the world. Training costs would be cheaper; the funding beneficial to the Cuban economy and the courses there might be particularly attractive to some students dreading class ridden training in the UK.

Likewise the Philippines has huge programmes for training nurses to travel abroad and again could train UK nurses more cheaply while benefiting its own economy. These are just two areas to look at there are more.

Clearly links would need to be built between UK educators and those abroad and part of the training would still need to be done in the UK but paying for UK students to be trained abroad has to be more ethical than pocketing trained staff from countries in greater need than ourselves.


Liz Fenton

Director, Urban IQ Ltd