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UK restriction can’t stop doctors’ migration, say NMA, NARD

Medical bodies in the countries have said the United Kingdom government’s code of practice for the international recruitment of health and social care personnel will not stop Nigerian doctors from migrating to other countries.

According to them, the UK can only define its terms as freedom of movement is a fundamental right.

The Nigerian Medical Association and the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors were reacting to the UK code of practice, which listed Nigeria among 54 other countries where health workers should not be actively recruited.

The UK explained that the 54 countries were those the World Health Organisation recognised as having most pressing health and care workforce-related challenges.

The UK code read in part, “Countries on the list should not be actively targeted for recruitment by health and social care employers, recruitment organisations, agencies, collaborations, or contracting bodies unless there is a government-to-government agreement in place to allow managed recruitment undertaken strictly in compliance with the terms of that agreement.

“Countries on the WHO Health Workforce Support and Safeguards list are graded red in the code. If a government-to-government agreement is put in place between a partner country, which restricts recruiting organisations to the terms of the agreement, the country is added to the amber list.”

Reacting to the restriction, the NMA President, Dr Uche Ojinmah, in an interview with The PUNCH said Nigerian doctors migrate to other countries because they are poorly treated by the government.

“I don’t actually begrudge the UK for recruiting Nigerian doctors because it’s the poor treatment they are getting from Nigeria that’s pushing them away. If the Nigerian government and people place a premium on Nigerians, they obviously won’t migrate.

“It is okay that the UK is placing us on the lower rungs for recruitment but what about the United States of America, Canada, Grenada, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, South Africa, Germany, etc?

“Nobody can take away the freedom of movement; it’s a fundamental right. They can only define the terms,” Ojinmah said.

Also, the President of the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors, Dr Emeka Orji, said doctors can go to other countries to practise the profession.

Orji said, “The truth is that it is not only the UK that Nigerian health workers go to and even with this list, it only means that they will not only be headhunting our health workers. So, that doesn’t mean people can’t apply to work in the UK.”

The NMA president also said the restriction might not be unconnected with the Federal Government’s move to curb the brain drain in the country.

“I know that last year, the MDCN Registrar went to the GMC and the report we got that time was that they discussed how to mitigate the effect of brain drain in Nigeria.

“This is purely speculative but we believe this was part of what was discussed. We can’t confirm that but it is possible,” Ojinmah added.

Some officials of the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria had, in October 2022, visited the General Medical Council Office in Manchester, UK.

The officials of the MDCN on the visit were its Chairman, Prof Abba Waziri; Registrar, Dr Tajudeen Sanusi, and the Head of Department, Registration, Dr Henry Okwukenye.

The General Medical Council is a public body that maintains the official register of medical practitioners within the United Kingdom.

Parts of the tweet on MDCN’s Twitter handle @MDCNOfficial on the GMC’s visit read, “We had a lot of useful discussions amongst which is the possibility of the UK government to repatriate some funds in line with global health initiatives from Nigerian doctors who were trained with tax payers’ funds.

“Discussion around stemming the tide of brain drain also took place.”

The restriction by the UK comes amid a bill in the House of Representatives seeking to impose a five-year compulsory service on doctors as a condition to grant them full practice licence upon graduation.

The NARD’s President added that, “It’s possible the Nigerian government pushed for this (the restriction) but we have not seen any official release to that effect.”

He called on the Federal Government to improve the working condition of health workers and fund the health sector in order to discourage migration.

He explained, “The government is now complaining that there is a brain drain but we have always known this and we have been talking about it. What is now expected is that government should increase the production capacity so that even when these foreign countries come for the doctors, nurses, and other health workers, you will turn it to an advantage, improve on training, infrastructure, improve your personnel and fund health, so that you will not be complaining to foreign countries to stop encroaching on your medical workforce. What you should be doing is encouraging it as long as you have enough. That is what India did.”

It was reported that there are currently 11,055 Nigerian-trained doctors in the UK, based on statistics obtained from the GMC.

Nigeria has the third highest number of foreign doctors working in the UK after India, and Pakistan.

Apart from Nigeria, some other countries placed by the UK on the red list of ‘No active recruitment’ are Afghanistan, Angola, Bangladesh, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Kiribati, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Lesotho, Liberia.

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