The British Medical Association (BMA) has called for international action on the skills drain of healthcare workers from the developing world.
Speaking at a summit that aims to agree an international policy statement on health worker migration, James Johnson, chairman of the BMA, said the problem was “one of the most serious global problems of today”.
“No-one wishes to see doctors and nurses constrained indefinitely within the bounds of the country that trains them,” he said. “But the number of healthcare workers in many African countries is actually shrinking. The effect of this brain drain on the health of these developing countries is incalculable and catastrophic.”
Johnson said that Ghana was a good example of the impact of medical staff being tempted away from their own countries as two-thirds of young Ghanaian doctors leave the country within three years of graduation. And in 1999, 320 nurses (the country’s annual output of newly trained staff) were lost to emigration, with that figure doubling in the year 2000.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has warned that the expansion of the NHS has relied too much on the recruitment of overseas staff.
Last November, the RCN reported that its annual survey of the NHS labour market showed that the nursing and midwifery workforce in England had grown by 16% to 292,000 since the year 2000, largely by recruiting foreign nurses – notably from the Philippines, India and South Africa.
There are also fears that British nurses may leave for the US in increasing numbers as that country steps up its drive to recruit more than a million nurses by 2012.