Don’t tie Scots doctors down to stay in NHS, MSP warned

SNP MSP Richard Lyle said he wanted new doctors to have a contract forcing them to serve five years in the NHS. Photograph: Greg Macvean
SNP MSP Richard Lyle said he wanted new doctors to have a contract forcing them to serve five years in the NHS. Photograph: Greg Macvean
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The head of the UK’s leading international medical recruitment agency has warned that any attempt to force Scottish-trained doctors to work in the NHS for a minimum period could backfire spectacularly.

SNP politician Richard Lyle last week suggested new doctors could be prevented from leaving the country with a tie-in contract committing them to serve at least five years in the NHS.

The MSP for Uddingston and Belshill made the remarks during a meeting of the Scottish Parliament’s health committee, during which he expressed concern that new doctors are free to go and work in Australia, New Zealand or elsewhere as soon as they finished training.

“I do not want to hamstring anyone or tie them down, but if a country gives you an opportunity to train to be something, you should at least give something back to that country,” he told MSPs.

However, experts have warned that far from helping solve the current recruitment and retention problem of staff within the NHS it could worsen the situation.

Jim Godsal, interim managing director of Head Medical, the UK’s leading international agency specialising in the recruitment of doctors, said such a move could be more damaging in the long-term.

“Doctors have always looked to broaden their horizons. Since Head Medical started in 2008 we have helped hundreds of UK doctors move overseas and brought many of them, and others, back to the UK after they have gained additional experience elsewhere.

“Very few of the doctors we have helped have been newly qualified, most have already worked for a number of years here before seeking new challenges abroad. They may want to move for lifestyle reasons or are at a point in their career where they want to experience a different healthcare system and learn new things.”

Although estimates put the cost of training a doctor in the UK at more than £600,000 much of the expense is incurred while doctors are actively working in the health service.

“The cost to train a doctor accounts for many years of training,” said Godsal. “It covers their medical school, their initial foundation year and time as a junior doctor which can be six or seven years before they reach consultant level. All that time they are working within the NHS. That figure to train a doctor could refer to ten or 12 years spent working in the NHS until they reach consultant level. That means the NHS gets pretty good mileage out of them in that period of time.”

Godsal also pointed out that if Scotland adopted such a policy other countries may do the same.