New immigration rules to restrict access to UK doctor training have been introduced by the government.
The rules implement the first part of the Home Office’s new points-based system and impose a condition on highly skilled migrants, which prohibits international medical graduates from outside the European Economic Area from taking a post as a doctor in training.
The new rules take effect from 29 February, but will not have an impact on recruitment until 2009.
In last year’s recruitment process, there were nearly 28,000 applicants for about 15,500 training places in England. The forecast for 2008 is that competition will be even higher, with three applicants for every post. More than half of applicants are likely to have trained outside the UK and Europe.
The Department of Health has launched a consultation setting out proposals for managing applications to training programmes from migrant doctors with leave to remain in the UK.
Previous DoH guidance in this area was ruled unlawful by the Court of Appeal last year. However, the House of Lords is hearing the department’s appeal later this month, with a decision expected in May.
Most international medical graduates who come to work or train in the NHS do not stay very long, with more than half leaving within four years of joining the NHS.
Health secretary Alan Johnson said: “It can cost up to £250,000 to train a UK medical student and, with the increase in [the number of] UK medical schools, we are moving to a policy of self-sufficiency. If UK medical graduates cannot access specialist training because of a large number of applicants from outside Europe, then it is only right that we should consider what needs to be done.
“I cannot stress enough that we are not closing the door to international doctors working in the NHS. These new rules only apply to training places in the UK,” he said.
Steve Barnett, director of NHS Employers, said: “Employers will see this as a positive step in addressing the current oversupply of doctors. We have grown the graduate workforce in the UK and now need to maximise opportunities for UK and European Economic Area graduates by giving them priority in the first few years of their postgraduate training.”