The NHS needs more British doctors, senior surgeon warns

The NHS needs more British doctors, senior surgeon warns; Patients are being put at risk as 40 per cent of doctors taken on by the NHS each year are foreign, a senior surgeon has warned. Professor J Meirion Thomas believes that Jeremy Hunt’s plans to save the NHS are seriously flawed.

If you were on holiday on 14 August, you may have missed the report on a compelling and excellent article by Professor J Meirion Thomas, a consultant surgeon at the Royal Marsden hospital in London. He wrote this for the Spectator and the article was reported in the

Telegraph by Hayley Dixon.

Whether you are a foreign doctor or nurse wanting to work in the UK, or whether you are one of the many thousands of UK staff that help to make hospitals and health centres, work better for patients, then read on.

ReMEDI Rx would suggest, (no, urge) you to read the article carefully 3 times then write down a list of either;

  • What opportunities this could mean for you, if you are a foreign doctor and
  • If you are a UK clinician, CEO, hospital manager, theatre orderly, hospital porter, indeed any one working within the healthcare environment, how would you make things better if you were in charge?


Currently, there is a lot of hand-wringing over the NHS and a simple quick fix plaster will not mend it.

So what can mend it? Well for a start, we should ensure that our UK healthcare systems are run by senior, experienced clinicians, and that the politicians in charge of health actually know about the subject.

For instance Professor Thomas (and people like him), and indeed the ReMEDI Rx directors would have between them, over a 100 years of healthcare “front-line” knowledge, skills and ability to communicate with patients..

Professor Thomas pointed out that professionals drafted in from abroad often have language difficulties, and know little of our culture. How we agree. ReMEDI Rx courses can fix that with an array of clinical English courses for doctors and other healthcare professionals.

But it’s not just about being able to speak English, it’s also about good communication and establishing a rapport with every single patient so that when they are at their most vulnerable, they can put their trust in the people who are trained to provide them with optimal healthcare.

So let’s look at some of the issues raised by Professor Thomas first so that we can suggest solutions and together we could try and implement improvements.

  1. Professor J Meirion Thomas pointed out that; ”professionals drafted in from abroad often have language difficulties, are not as well trained, and know little of our culture”.
  2. “The Health Secretary needs to change the role of GPs and introduce senior nurses into local surgeries to relieve the pressure on A&E departments”.
  3. “Every year, we import 40 per cent of our doctors because of insufficient training places in British medical schools,”
  4. “Most (UK) applicants to UK medical schools are rejected despite having the required A-level grades.
  5. The GMC registers 13,000 doctors a year, 6,000 who come from foreign countries and start work with “little or no knowledge and experience of British culture or of our health service.
  6. “A&E departments were at breaking point”
  7. He blames the Government for the lack of British doctors, saying they are unwilling to pay thousands to train them and therefore leaving the positions open to foreign doctors who see working for the NHS as a “bonanza”.
  8. “European doctors fly in to cover locum vacancies, especially in general practice,”
  9. “There is no test of language proficiency before registering. As a result of austerity in southern Europe, there has been a significant increase in GMC registrations of newly-qualified doctors from Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal and especially Eastern Europe. “
  10. A GMC survey found that foreign-trained doctors are up to four times more likely to be suspended or struck off than their UK colleagues.

Foreign doctors and nurses coming to the UK to work can earn a lot of money with our current shortage of skilled doctors and nurses.

HOWEVER, when UK tax-paying patients are in hospital, it is they who must insist on quality doctor or nurses, whose clinical skills have been checked and who have undertaken clinical English courses and been tested on their proficiency in English (when English is not their first language and if they have not graduated in English).

ReMEDI Rx runs clinical English training courses for doctors and other healthcare professionals. It includes communication as an essential component. Similarly, the IELTS training and testing have always been the gold standards for international professionals wanting to work in the UK.

Gaining a “7” out of “9” at the academic IELTS test used to be mandatory for all foreign doctors BEFORE they commenced work in the UK. Most alarmingly, an EU ruling has taken this vital check away so that any healthcare professional from the EU can start work in the UK without a language check or test. He or she could even take a UK job as a doctor without speaking any English. This has to be an accident waiting to happen as was the case with Dr Ubani from Germany.

We understand that the GMC would like to see mandatory language and communication testing, but their hands are tied because the government will not overturn the EU ruling.

This is all hard to believe, isn’t it?  Does it leave you appalled? Point 10 above should never be the case.

All of Professor Thomas’ issues merit full answers and we will address these in future comments, in the mean time, ReMEDI Rx would like to hear from you, send us your best ideas for improving our NHS, here are some of our thoughts for starters.

  1. Restore mandatory English testing with IELTS and make clinical English training and communications skills courses for doctors and nurses mandatory for ALL international healthcare professionals wanting to work in the UK.
  2. Give the GMC greater authority to oversee these measures.
  3. Increase doctor and nurse training and staffing levels and use locum and bank staff only for sickness cover, Staffing levels should be established by working to an agreed staff to patient formula. (This also applies to GPs and the covering of their communities’ healthcare needs over the weekends).
  4. Increase salaries for doctors, nurses and other professionals allied to medicine, by at least 30%, then ensure that these salaries keep pace with inflation. (Note the salary increase does not apply to GPs).
  5. Restore nurse training to apprenticeship style training. Ward work and learning how to care and communicate applies to trainee doctors as well as nurses, ensure this is a component of their training.
  6. Remove Performance Related Pay (PRP) for all CEOs and hospital managers and instead, develop a plan to reward front-line staff.
  7. Remove all non-clinical CEOs and hospital managers and replace with ONE hospital Matron and ONE Lead Consultant, both with 2 or 3 deputies and full secretarial support.
  8. Improve job prospects and/or salary for A+ E consultants and ensure A+E is adequately and appropriately staffed at all times 24/7.
  9. Ensure that the “golden hours” of the operating theatre are optimised, even if it needs 10 more theatre porters to achieve this.
  10. Address all other hospital bottle-necks, (the operating theatre often being the worst one).
  11. Expect a higher minimum number of hours from all consultants. And finally
  12. Never ever ever again, allow any government to introduce inappropriate targets for the NHS or allow EU directives to get in the way of best care for UK patients.

Sue Thornton