UK hunt for foreign doctors brings flood of calls


LONDON (Reuters) – Foreign doctors have flooded Britain's Health Department with calls ahead of an international advertising campaign to boost the number of doctors in the state-funded National Health Service, a spokesman said on Tuesday.

A month-long advertising campaign, beginning in September, will target doctors in seven European countries–Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, Holland, Sweden and Switzerland–as well as the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the Middle East.

Due to advance media coverage the department's public inquiry unit has logged 68 calls from overseas consultants, many from Germany, while its Web site has received 122 e-mails, the spokesman said. "It's extremely encouraging. Clearly people do feel that working for the NHS is a worthwhile proposition."

British embassies have also been fielding enquiries, particularly those in Europe and Japan, the spokesman said.

The move comes after Prime Minister Tony Blair's promise to dramatically expand the size of Britain's NHS workforce. A lack of staff, not the money to recruit them, is the department's main problem.

"The biggest constraint the NHS faces today is no longer a shortage of financial resources, it is a shortage of human resources," the department said in a statement. "We have promised an additional 7,500 consultants by 2004…to help us deliver this."

The British Medical Association has welcomed the move but warned that foreign doctors would not take up posts in the NHS unless the government improved their working conditions.

"Many of our European colleagues find the pace at which we work quite mind-boggling," said Dr George Rae of the BMA's general practitioner committee.

Responding to the BMA's claims, Martin Leuwer, professor of anaesthetics at Liverpool University, said on Tuesday that it was "nonsense" to suggest that British anaesthetists worked harder than their foreign counterparts. He told the Guardian newspaper that Britain was a "most attractive" destination for doctors who wanted to advance their careers.

The NHS already recruits nurses from overseas because of local shortages, with an estimated 30,000 working in hospitals across the country. The Royal College of Nursing, a nurses' union, said earlier this year that the number of overseas nurses registered to work in Britain was poised to overtake the number of newly qualified local nurses.

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