Published: 06:00, 02 September 2019
| Updated: 11:42, 03 September 2019
Nearly a third of all doctors hired by the county’s NHS trusts over the last year come from developing countries where recruitment is banned, it has emerged.
It has prompted a health think tank to warn the trusts, which run our hospitals, not to stray from ethical recruitment guidelines in the face of post-Brexit staff shortages.
The new figures have revealed a surge in medics joining the NHS from a list of countries the government says should not be actively recruited from, such as Bangladesh, Georgia and Nigeria.
Of the 477 doctors hired across all our main NHS trusts, some 145 gained their medical qualifications in countries on the restricted list, according to NHS Digital - that’s 30%.
The policy is intended to prevent valuable medical staff being poached from their home nations, which are often in receipt of foreign aid and may have a shortage of medics.
It does not prevent trusts from considering applications on an individual basis, as long as they are not directly targeted in recruitment drives.
Across England, the number of doctors recruited from listed countries has been steadily rising. In 2015-16, there were 2,192 recruits – 13% of doctors hired that year.
By 2018-19, this had risen to 3,686, 19% of the total.
The highest proportion (1,006 doctors) came from Pakistan, followed by Nigeria (736) and Egypt (501).
Alex Baylis, assistant director of policy at health think tank the King’s Fund, said staff shortages had been exacerbated by a “dramatic drop-off” in workers coming from Europe since the Brexit vote, but warned this should not cause ethical hiring practices to fall by the wayside.
“Many NHS services are trying to find staff wherever they can, but international recruitment must be done ethically and there are codes of practice on ethical recruitment for a reason,” he said.
“It’s essential that the NHS complies with these guidelines even when they are under pressure to plug rota gaps.
“In the short-term, some NHS vacancies can only be filled by ramping up international recruitment but attracting staff from overseas must be part of a wider plan for solving the workforce crisis – a plan that makes a commitment to increasing domestic training, recruitment and retention.”
Of the 195 new doctors who joined the East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust - which runs the Kent & Canterbury, William Harvey and QEQM hospitals - in the 12 months to January, 67 were on the restricted list.
The Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust hired 108 doctors - 18 of whom would be on the list; The Medway NHS Foundation Trust recruited 106 new doctors with 38 of them from restricted countries.
Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust, which runs Darent Valley, took 22 from the restricted list out of 68 doctors hired.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said the list of restricted countries was out of date, but did not provide an update.
She added that the figures could include doctors given short-term development opportunities through the government’s Medical Training Initiative.
“This list shows countries that hospital trusts have rightly been instructed not to target with recruitment campaigns for humanitarian reasons,” she said.
“As you would expect, there is nothing to stop individuals from these nations being employed by the NHS.
“EU workers play a vital role across the health and social care system and we want them to continue to do so.
“Over 6,300 more have joined the NHS since the referendum.
“We continue to encourage those living and working in the UK to apply for settled status under the EU settlement scheme.”
A spokesman for East Kent Hospitals said: “Responsible recruiting is important to the trust and we do not conduct recruitment campaigns in any of the restricted countries.
“We only use agencies authorised by NHSI and always adhere to the rules. Any colleagues who have joined us from the countries listed have actively sought to work for the trust rather than being targeted.”