As the UK population becomes increasingly diverse, business research strongly indicates that the most successful organisational leaders are those who recognise the need for a varied workforce which reflects the people they deal with. A recent study from management consultancy firm McKinsey showed that the more diverse in terms of factors like ethnicity and gender organisations are, the better they perform. So, with this in mind, shouldn’t the NHS also aim to mirror the shifting demographic composition of the UK as far as possible?
One way to promote diversity within the NHS would be to increase the number of highly-skilled doctors from overseas that it employs. However, there still appears to be a number of misconceptions about practitioners from outside the UK and it seems that many may be viewed in some way as a second-rate choice, compared to “home-grown” medical professionals. However, as has been shown in NHS Trusts up and down the country, having doctors who come from a diverse range of countries and backgrounds is actually highly beneficial to the NHS and the patients it serves. Overseas medics aren’t just supporting the NHS by merely plugging staff shortage gaps. As the GMC’s Assistant Director of Registration, Jane Durkin, recently said: “The medical profession in the UK relies on the expertise of doctors from overseas. Their contribution and the diversity of experience they bring are invaluable.” So, what exactly is it that they contribute which is so vital for our NHS?
On an immediate and practical level, a distinct benefit of having overseas doctors working in hospitals, serving multicultural communities, is that they have the advantage of being bilingual. Having had to sit comprehensive English tests such as IELTS or OET, these professionals bring with them their own “native” language, as well as English and any others they may know. This facilitates greater clinical engagement with a wider range of patients than an entirely English-speaking body of medical professionals could ever manage.
However, the advantages go far beyond language. Employing the expertise of doctors who are sourced worldwide means the NHS can benefit from a much wider range of skills, knowledge and professional experiences, such as alternative techniques or familiarity with tropical diseases. In a report on international medical graduates’ contribution to the NHS, GMC Chairman Mark Porter, said: “There is poor recognition of their importance to the continued development of the NHS [despite them being] essential members of the UK’s medical workforce.” Our NHS is truly impressive and the envy of countries the world over, yet we can still learn from collaborating with overseas professionals. For example, doctors who train and practice somewhere like the United Arab Emirates, arguably one of the most sophisticated and modern health systems in the world, are in a position to pass on valuable knowledge about its pioneering procedures and techniques. Having a varied body of medical professionals and a subsequent, steady flow of alternative ideas and perspectives, could facilitate new approaches to problem solving and help develop new cures and treatments.
Commitment to the NHS
The health service is facing extremely challenging conditions which are well-documented in the media and that probably perpetuate its current recruitment difficulties. The NHS’s reliance on locum doctors – and the associated high costs – has been an area of concern for trusts for many years. Arguably, repeated handovers to these ‘temps’ are not good for patient care or budgets. Yet to overseas doctors, such as those from India or Singapore, the prospect of permanent employment in the NHS remains highly attractive. Indian doctors, for example, who work in extremely busy hospitals across a much larger population than the UK, typically see very large numbers of patients and work long hours (an average of 60-70 per week). Such hard-working, committed medical professionals are real assets to our health service. They could play a part in helping the NHS increase its number of permanent doctors in order to transform the workforce and save a significant amount of money in the process. In fact, Mark Porter suggests that without them, the NHS may struggle to cope, urging that: “To ensure that the NHS can continue to deliver safe and effective care in the face of increasing pressures, the skill and commitment of these doctors must be recognised and valued.”
Recognise and enrich
With the drop in medical students at UK universities in the past few years, compounded by an increase in the numbers of doctors wishing to work flexibly, it is arguably vital for hiring managers at NHS Trusts to recognise that the contributions of overseas doctors add value to hospitals which goes far beyond the obvious benefit of filling vacancies or saving costs. As Dr Liam Brennan, President of the Royal College of Anaesthetists, says, “There is no doubt that securing the vital contribution of the NHS’s international workforce is crucial to the long-term sustainability of the health service.” The GMC forecasts that the number of international doctors applying to work in the UK will reach over 5,000 this year. And, while this still won’t fully address the talent shortage, recruiting overseas doctors can be a valuable way for trusts to add both experience and diversity to their hospitals and enrich the system for the future.
Philip Braham is the co-founder and director of Remedium Partners